Like a fish out of water

Fish out of water
These fish had been pulled from the ocean only a little while before I took this photo - so they'd be pretty safe to buy and eat. In fact, they'd probably be very tasty!

This isn't always the case though. Often you'll see run down bakkies (light delivery vehicles) filled with fish and ice parked on the side of the road. You'll usually see two or three guys (who've clearly been fishing for some time) each waving one or two long snoek fish in your general direction. The idea is that you'll be so tempted by the memory of your last snoek braai that you'll immediately pull your car over to buy one or two of their tasty fish!

To be honest though, I've never bought a fish from the side of the road, and this is only partly because I normally see the bakkie far too late to stop. In reality, the reason I don't go to more effort to stop is (a) because I hate cleaning fish and (b) because I've often seen the same bakkie parked for hours in the warm sun at the side of the road. Even though the fish are on ice - by the end of the day the ice is melted and the fish clearly aren't as fresh as they once were.

Call me paranoid - but have you ever writhed in pain after eating dodgy food, and can you say "salmonella"?!

14 thoughts on “Like a fish out of water

  1. RiD1

    You say you dont stop cos you dont like cleaning the fish… Seriaasly, these people in the bakkies always clean for us when we buy, maybe you just never asked them…

  2. Paul

    Post author

    RiD1 – that’s interesting. I remember my dad buying fish from the guys at the side of the road and AFAIK they never cleaned them then. That said, I don’t doubt you – I’m sure if one asks they’ll do it. What do you reckon they’d do with all the nasty bits and pieces that they cut out? Hectic dude… :)

  3. RiD1

    They probably use those bits for bait… or in poorer areas sell it the poorer people who’ll eat it without a worry in the world….
    Once my mom bought a fish and a poor lady asked if she can get the head part of the fish fromt he one my mom bought, ai, so my mom bought the poor lady a whole fish instead…and she took the head of ours as well!

  4. Paul

    Post author

    @RiD1 – I wonder if they make soup from the heads. That I guess I can understand, but I was wondering about the intestines, etc. Grrr… makes me shiver. :)

    That was nice of your mom. Need more folk like her.

  5. Lunachance

    I used to run fish processors in Alaska and will give you a couple of common things to check before buying a “fresh” fish. By definition, “fresh” fish only means it has not been frozen, it has nothing to do with how long ago the fish was caught. Fish will keep longer (and taste better) if the fishermen bleed out the fish as they catch them. Better yet, if the fishermen “dress” the fish (slice the belly from the anus to the collar, clean out the guts and bloodline, wash the fish carcass and fill with ice) as quickly as possible, before putting the fish in either tanks or bins. When fish are “princess cut” the heads are left on but the gills have been removed and the fish have been dressed. This is a more expensive way to process the fish as this is all hand cut (no machines involved).

    A fresh fish should be a beautiful thing. A good way to tell if the fish is still “good” is to look at the eyes, they should be clear and show no cloudiness at all. Fish do not smell “bad” or like “fish” when they are fresh. When they are first caught, they actually smell like the water they were swimming in. The skin should have all of its scales. The meat should look and feel firm. There shouldn’t be any seal bites or sea lice on them.

    So, if there is a fishy smell, walk away. If you smell bleach, the shopkeeper is not a clean freak, they are trying to cover up a rotten fish smell (some shopkeepers have been known to dip the fish in a bleach solution) — run, do not walk away. If you have seen fish with their heads on, and now the fish that was $6.99/lb three days ago is on sale for $4.00/lb, but has had the heads cut off – these are the same fish, but are “tired” and approaching the end of their shelf life, again, skip this purchase.

    Some fish age better than other varieties. In the days of yore, halibut fishermen would catch the fish in Alaska and deliver them to Seattle (by boat). Let that soak in. If the fish were caught near Dutch Harbor (Alaska), they would have to travel over 1950 miles to get to Seattle, Washington. Often the first fish caught would be more than 14 days old before getting to market, and these were “fresh” fish. Yuck.

    So, if there is flash frozen fish (usually processed at sea when the fish are freshest) available to purchase, I would lean to that to buy as this fish often tastes better than an “old” fresh fish. Frozen fish should be vacuum packed, as interaction with air causes the meat to deteriorate. Ideally, there would be a “glaze” on the frozen fish (this is usually water with some corn syrup mixed in), as this will help to protect the fish from freezer burning.

    Off the soap box for now,

  6. Nathan Blows

    Them innards? My dad used to dust them in seasoned flour and fry them. It was actually pretty good. They called it “kuite” – I’m sure that spelling isn’t right :)

    I do buy fish off the side of the road, but normally when they’ve parked close to the harbour or beach. I normally prefer to buy straight off the boats if I can.

    You can also check how fresh the fish is. Surprisingly it shouldn’t smell like fish but like the sea. The eyes should also never be dull or glazed over.

    Happy fish buying!

  7. Paul

    Post author

    Lunachance, wow – thanks for that very complete explanation. I’ve never like the fishy smell of fish – and that’s primarily what put me off seafood in the past. I now eat a lot more seafood than what I previously did, and I think it’s because a sushi chef once told me exactly what you mentioned here – that if the fish smells fishy then it’s pretty fishy fish – that it’s old.

    It’s good that you mention about the eyes – it’s an additional and simple and easy-to-remember way of checking.

    Thanks for getting up on that soapbox – it’s appreciated. :)

  8. Paul

    Post author

    Nathan, that’s very interesting – I’ve often heard people speak about “kuite” and just never knew what they were. It sounds disgusting dude. :)

    Thanks for the info about the fishy smell and glazed eyes – in true CS style you stated the essence of Lunachance’s message in a single sentence. ;)

  9. RiD1

    Ive not eaten caviar ever…
    But seriously…Kuite aint as fishy as fish….
    It comes out nice when friend in masala form , or even at the fisheries you can buy it in battered form.
    Its rather pricey though as its difficult to obtain…but worth every bit…

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *