Unbeknownst to most in Miami, before I was the effete and elegant Food & Beverage Journalist known and occasionally beloved today, I had a secret, and some might say stinky, past. That’s right, before my days consisted of pecking out overly-wordy odes to our city’s many swank eateries, I was a fishmonger of no particular skill, a rubber-gloved workman whose delight consisted only in passing on shucks of oysters and a finely sliced salmon fillet.
No outdoorsman by any stretch, up until I began this semi-gainful employment with a number of personages of coastal Chinese extraction, my experience with the denizens of the deep had been relegated to fish sticks and very occasional forays to freshwater lakes to set worm to hook. What I learned as the Jade Palace Seafood Market rose from dreamy idea to notable neighborhood standout simply couldn’t be contained in the space allotted on this page. And though the market no longer exists, the lessons I learned at the feet of aged fishermen and extraordinary chefs will always linger. The first, and the most important (perhaps impossible to impress on those who have only purchased frozen fillets), fish are a majestic aspect of Mother Nature, no less regal than sacred Hindu cows of neighboring nations. Intent that our communities should experience the joy and verve that comes up with handling whole fish with reverence, allow me to share some top tips (learned the hard way) for selecting truly fresh fish from local providers. First, much like man, the eyes of freshly caught fish are windows into their soul. A dull and cloudy-eyed fish should always be passed on, and, as eyes are the first to fade, the perfect way to tell if your potential fish dish will pass the taste test. In addition to the eyes, smell is an important factor during selection. Freshwater fish (catfish, crappie, large and smallmouth bass, etc.) should smell clean and clear, while their saltwater cousins (tuna and snapper) should have a slight brackish smell. Third, and of equal importance, take a glance at the gills. Anything but the brightest of red means a hard pass for this old hand at the haddock game.