Sea Breeze Fish Market and Grill, the subject of this week's review, has had me thinking a lot about seafood and freshness. While the flesh of every animal begins to deteriorate the second that animal dies, seafood is the most fragile of animal proteins. Beef kept under refrigeration actually improves for a few weeks, as evidenced by the premium steakhouses require for dry-aged cuts. Dry-aged fish, on the other hand, doesn't have the same allure.
Cold-water fish spoil more quickly than warm-water fish. The enzymes that support their lifestyle are used to performing their daily functions at 40 degrees. Oily fish break down more quickly too. That's why mackerel can be a bit of a gamble at the sushi bar. Properly stored on ice, the cold-water, oily fish only stay in good condition for five days. Tilapia, on the other hand, a warm-water fish with very little oil, can go more than three weeks out of water. (But who wants to eat that?)
So when a fisherman pulls any fish out of the water, it's an all-out race to get it onto someone's plate. Different species have different fishing methods, go through different auction and distribution systems, and end up behind grocery store counters, frozen in bags or thinly sliced and pressed on rice based on the price they command and the longevity of the fish, but the lowest common denominator for all fish is time.
That's why volume is so important at seafood shops and restaurants. Places that specialize in fish and that purchase and sell a lot of it don't typically have a lot of product sitting around for days. Check out their counters and you'll see black eyes, shiny skin and smooth flesh. Shop for seafood in most grocery stores and you'll see cloudy, glassy eyes, dry skin and fillets that have gotten ragged and mealy. Asian groceries are a great place to shop for fish because the customers who shop there buy a lot of it.
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Once you've found a seafood counter you trust, see if they have anything to eat. That's how I found some of the best crabcake sandwiches in Maryland, and a pretty good lobster rolls in Plano.