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Fishing for freshness

We caught the fish connoisseur on his daily trip to Mahim’s Citylight market for tips on selecting the best catch. Restaurateur Girish Shetty educates Vidhi Bhargava on how to buy seafood

india Updated: Feb 17, 2009 17:10 IST
Vidhi Bhargava

He has the eye of a hawk when it comes to choosing pomfret, clams, crabs and lobsters. Just one look and the owner of Jai Hind Restaurant, Girish Shetty, either picks it up or walks on.

“A visit to the fish market is a morning ritual. I’ve been following it for 24 years. I like to personally select the seafood for my restaurants,” he states. “Smell is the pointer when buying any fish or seafood. Fresh fish never smells fishy.”

We caught the fish connoisseur on his daily trip to Mahim’s Citylight market one Sunday morning for tips on selecting the
best catch.

Clams
Shetty believes that the only way to know bad clams from good ones is through smell. He says, “When you open the clams they should smell fresh.. almost like the salty sea.”

He adds, “the smaller the clam, the more tender and flavourful it will be. But medium- sized clams can be just as tasty too.”

The inner flesh should be a bright yellow. Pale flesh means the clams have been dead for a long time.
Clams should be shut or just about open so that when tapped they shut again. “Open clams indicate dead clams,” Shetty points out. Discard any clam with traces of sand in it. This means it has been dead for long, perhaps in the sea itself

Pomfrets
A versatile fish, the silver pomfret is the most common specie available in Mumbai. According to Shetty, feeling, touching and smelling a pomfret is essential. “The fish should be shiny and firm to touch. Lightly press the body, the flesh should spring back the moment you remove the pressure,” he advises. Limp fish are stale. The eyes should be clear and bright. Avoid fish with glassy or red eyes.

Shetty adds, “Pressing the gills gently will release a white translucent gel-like liquid. If the liquid is slightly grey, it’s okay but dump it if it is black.”

The gills should be a bright red and not too dark. Sometimes fisherfolks colour the fish red so rub it with a finger and see if it leaves any colour behind.

Bombil
Bombil or Bombay daak is Mumbai’s favourite fish, eaten both dried and fresh. It’s a poor man’s fish, priced at Rs 60 to 80 per dozen.

“Fresh bombil is always in the pink of health, quite literally. It should be slippery but firm to touch and slightly pink,” says Shetty. If there’s colour on your finger it has been artificially coloured.

Crabs and lobsters
“The best time to buy shellfish is from amavasya (moonless night) to purnima (full moon night). It is most bharela or meaty then. The logic is that crabs get scared when the moon is shining bright and go into their shell,” informs Shetty.
Both crabs and lobsters are usually marketed live because they spoil fast when dead.

The female crabs are meatier than their male counterpart. And the black crabs are fleshier than white ones. The crab’s claws should be undamaged.

“In lobsters, observe the colour of the flesh in between the joints. It should be white and not yellowish white or blackish white,” cautions Shetty.

Prawns
There are several varieties of prawns available in Mumbai — small prawns or shrimps, medium-sized prawns, striped tiger prawns and the blackish khadi ka jheenga or prawns found in shallow water.
Shetty enlightens, “Buying and eating prawns can be tricky business. Stale prawns can cause food poisoning.” So remember, smaller the prawns, the more flavourful they are. The body, specially the head, should be firm and not limp or curled. There should be no blackish spots on the shells.