Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Shopping for the fishes

Funny for a town where so many sleep with the fishes, so few can successfully shop for them.

Hoboken, NJ is a place where you can order sushi delivery at 2 in the morning, but finding a fresh tuna steak is as rare as an uncorrupted Hudson county official.  All the fishmongers went out years ago.  Every once in a while I will walk past an oceanic themed building, begin to get excited, and then realize it is relic of days gone by, an empty storefront (or a nail place that never redecorated). We are across the river from one of the largest fresh fish markets in the world, but to the untrained eye seemed doomed to Mrs. Paul's. I don't think this dilemma is unique to my little town. Much of America resides inland, and away from large lakes, rivers, and other sources for fresh fish.  But I do think it is extraordinary that we are right on the Atlantic Ocean and cannot muster a storefront for her harvests.   

Subsequently, we have adjusted like most of the country and are therefore subject to the tricky business of frozen fresh fish. To clarify, unless it just came in from a local fishing boat, most "fresh" fish is frozen.  The best is frozen right on the fishing boats, and then defrosted only once it hits the stores.  After that quality often goes downhill based on how frequently it is defrosted and then refrozen. There are a few telltale signs such as how clear the eyes are, how shiny the scales seem, and the redness of the gills.  But most of us are not purchasing whole fish these days - it's a lot of work to de-bone and gut them, and honestly unless it is a holiday or the Mayor is coming for dinner (esp Mayor Dawn Zimmer), who wants to make the time? Most folks are buying fillets and steaks, and in this case only the nose knows. My rule is if it smells like the ocean, it's worthwhile.  If it smells like rotten fish, then it is.  Trust your instincts. 

Over the years I have found a few worthwhile options for fish in and around town, as well as some that should just be thrown back.  They include the following:

  • Sobseys (Hoboken): Old school charm with a small selection, great quality, and high prices.  It is not my first stop for fish, but I do pick some up occasionally when I am buying their terrific produce.  
  • Garden of Eden (Hoboken): GoE has a nice little counter in the back of the store.  The fish seems fresh frozen, and they have a nice selection.  Be prepared to pay a premium for these amenities. 
  • A&P (Hoboken): I have to give them credit for hosting one of the few manned fish counters in the city.  The people who work there are helpful and seem nice, which is why I get so frustrated with their products.  Everything I have bought there has seemed of a lower quality than my other haunts. I have had inconsistent luck with their salmon, but other than that cannot recommend them.  On a catty note, someone get some Glade from aisle 5 please. 
  • Whole Foods (Edgewater): A grand fish counter of yesteryear awaits you.  There are several staff members who are generally helpful, although they don't seem to do well with custom orders.  Good selection and fairly pricey, which is consistent with the rest of the store.  I like that you can find whole fish here, as well as many eco-friendly options not available at all stores.
  • Trader Joe's (Edgewater): TJ's does not have a manned counter but they do have a wonderful fresh frozen fish selection.  The fish comes right from the boat and is defrosted for the first time when you slap it on your counter.  I have had very good luck with everything I have bought, including wild salmon, tuna, and sole. Best of all is the price, which is significantly less than the competition.  I always have some of their fish in my freezer for week-night meals. 

Where do you buy your fish and why?  Comment below and tell me about it. 

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