I swam like a fish as a child, and went deep sea fishing with my family in Acapulco, Mexico when I was a teenager (I caught that 6 foot swordfish next to me in the photo below), but that is about as far as my experience went with seafood having grown up in Des Moines, Iowa – 2000 miles away from the nearest ocean. What about you, do you know how to choose the freshest seafood?

Deep sea fishing with my family

Deep sea fishing with my family

Thankfully, most places today have access to a wonderful variety seafood due to flash freezing and modern delivery methods. Most specialty seafood markets, your local grocer and many of the larger food chains, display a good selection of fresh and frozen fish. Make sure you’re comfortable that the supplier you choose is one you’ll want to visit again, because you know their food is rotated properly and that they can be counted on to have the freshest product possible.

HRH Queen Elizabeth's fishmonger, James Knights

HRH Queen Elizabeth’s fishmonger, James Knight of Mayfair

The American Heart Association recommends we eat fish twice or more weekly. Studies have shown that Omega-3s from fish seem to have a beneficial and direct effect on our heart’s electrical function, which determines the rate of the heart’s beats. Even moderate consumption of fresh fish may help to reduce the risk of sudden cardiac death.

Heart healthy sardines. Fish market Split, Croatia

Heart healthy sardines. Fish market Split, Croatia

Remember good fish never smells fishy … but rather like the ocean. A fresh aroma that is pronounced but definitely not overpowering.


Crustaceans: prawns

Crustaceans such as crab, shrimp or lobster, should be heavy in weight (which indicates how much meat is inside) and have good color. Ask how long lobsters have been in their tank … they should be a bit active. Same thing for crab … ask how long they have been in their case. Shrimp should feel firm and never smell of ammonia. The shells should feel sturdy.

Muscles & Clams

Muscles & Clams – fish market in Split, Croatia

Shellfish like oysters, clams and mussels, should never have a gaping shell. If one or more is opened pick one up, tap it on a surface and if it is alive it will close tightly. Which means that you will need a tool to open it. If it remains open then it is not edible. Repeat this whenever necessary.

Selection of fresh fish at James Knight Fishmongers in London

Selection of fresh fish at James Knight Fishmongers in London

Fin Fish shouldn’t smell fishy either. They should be bright in appearance (salmon for instance should be red/pink). The skin’s surface should be glistening and with a light slippery feel to it. Fish need this protective shield since they live in the water. If you can smell the fish and touch it, then by all means do so. The flesh should feel firm and spring back. Trout and halibut will be an opaque white, whereas sand sole is white with a very light-pink tone. Swordfish is soft pink (not too much dark discolor on it) and yellow fin tuna has deep reddish/maroon tones. These two are steak-like fish. When cooked they are very firm and are great on the grill.

Enjoying my prawns

Enjoying my prawns

Whole fish should have the same nice appearance. The eyes should be level or bulging just above the surface of the skin; mostly bright, even though there are some species of fish that have cloudy eyes, but they are still fresh. The scales should look mostly intact and many times the gills have been removed as they deteriorate faster. Make sure the fish looks like it has been handled respectfully because if it looks like it has not, then it raises a red flag as to whether or not the correct temperature was maintained throughout shipping and display.

Eau de Vie Julie Anne Seafood Risotto

Eau de Vie Julie Anne Seafood Risotto

Last year I was honored with a limited edition bottle of grappa named after me, and Simini Catering in Turin, Italy very kindly sent me a case to sample. I don’t drink alcohol, but I do cook with it, and today I finally got around to writing, testing, and photographing a recipe using my namesake grappa.

Servings: 4
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 30 minutes


Eau De Vie Julie Anne Seafood Risotto

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 2 shallots minced
  • 2 cloves garlic minced
  • 1 cup Arborio rice
  • 1/4 cup grappa
  • 3 1/2 cups fish, chicken or vegetable stock or broth
  • 2 large zucchini shredded
  • 1/2 cup asiago cheese grated plus more for serving if desired
  • 1 pound shrimp peeled, deveined and cooked


Eau De Vie Julie Anne Seafood Risotto

  1. In a large saucepan or Dutch oven, heat melt the olive oil and butter together over medium-low heat. Add the shallots and cook until softened, stirring occasionally, about 5-6 minutes. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute.
  2. Meanwhile heat the broth or stock in a medium saucepan over medium heat.
  3. Increase heat to medium, add rice, and toast, stirring frequently for 2 minutes. Add the grappa, and let it cook off the alcohol while reducing for flavor 4-5 minutes. Add the hot stock or broth, 1 cup at a time, until the rice cooks and soaks it up, repeating until the rice is tender and a thickened sauce has naturally occurred. Stir in the zucchini and cheese, and cook 1-2 minutes longer.
  4. Remove from heat and stir in the shrimp.

Serving Suggestions

Serve hot with a green salad and some crusty Italian bread. A true Italian would shirk on serving a seafood pasta or risotto with cheese, but I do like a little extra grated asiago on top of mine.

Heat To Eat

Vent lid of container and heat in microwave on 50% power for 3-5 minutes, stirring midway; or heat in a large saucepan over medium-low heat, stirring frequently, until heated through, about 12-15 minutes.


Of course you could use any brand of grappa (this one is only available in Italy and France) you like, or substitute a dry white wine, although it will give you a different flavor, or just use broth. I had shrimp on hand, but this would also be excellent with any combination of shellfish – I want to try it with a combination of baby cocktail shrimp and scallops next time.


Sometimes the risotto will soak in all the liquid, so stir in a little extra broth or water when heating up to get the right consistency again.

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  • June 9, 2013
    4:54 am

    Thanks for the information Julie Anne. It certainly helps to know what to look out for when buying seafood. My husband usually buys the seafood as I have always felt a little ‘clueless’ in terms of what to look for, how fresh it is etc. However, after reading this post I think I may have to go out and give it a go myself. 🙂

    …………by the way, how were those olive oils?

  • June 9, 2013
    6:12 am

    Thank you for this. Choosing fish has always been a mystery other than salt fish which I was raised on. The only thing I knew for sure in picking fish was to make sure I knew where it came from but after that, it was a guessing game. Now I am educated in the shellfish as well, that will be much less scary to buy and cook. I read an article the other day about how not being educated on how to properly buy food AND store and cook it – especially meats and fish – is common cause for food poisoning. More often than restaurants. Good to know!