The Essentials of Choosing and Preparing Seafood for Beginners

As the Aussie sun dips beneath the horizon, casting an array of hues across the evening sky, the coastal air permeates with an irresistible scent that is quintessentially Australian. The sizzle of seafood wholesale delights on a barbie. Whether it’s prawns, calamari or a succulent piece of snapper, Australia’s love for seafood is as vast as its coastline. But for beginners, navigating the waters of seafood selection and preparation can feel as treacherous as facing a rip tide. Fear not! In this article, we’ll be covering the essentials of choosing and preparing seafood for beginners.

Choosing Your Seafood

Whether in a bustling city market or a coastal fish shop, the sight of freshly caught seafood can be overwhelming for the uninitiated. But don’t let the unfamiliarity intimidate you. Armed with a few key pieces of knowledge, you can ensure you’re picking the freshest catch every time.

  • Look for Bright Eyes and Shiny Scales

When you’re looking at whole fish, take note of the eyes and scales. The eyes should be bright and clear, not cloudy or dull, indicating fresh fish. Scales should also be shiny and intact, another sign of freshness.

  • Give it a Sniff

Trust your nose when it comes to assessing the freshness of seafood. Fresh seafood should smell like clean water or have a slight briny scent, and if it smells overly fishy or unpleasant, it probably needs to be fresh.

  • Firmness is a Good Indicator

For fillets, steaks, or shellfish, press gently on the flesh. It should be firm and spring back slightly. If it feels soft, mushy, or leaves an indentation, it’s past its prime.

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Preparing Your Seafood

Once you’ve selected your seafood, it’s time to prepare it for the grill, the oven, or the frying pan. Here’s how to prep your seafood like a pro.

  • Cleaning and Gutting a Fish

If your fish is whole, you must clean and gut it. First, rinse the fish under cold water. Make a shallow cut from the belly to the head using a sharp knife. Carefully remove the guts and rinse the cavity. If you’re feeling adventurous, you can remove the scales, though this is often done before purchase.

  • Deveining Prawns

To devein prawns, first, remove the head and the legs. Use a small knife to make a shallow cut along the back of the prawn. You’ll see a dark vein (which is the digestive tract). Use the tip of the knife to lift it out, then rinse the prawn.

  • Preparing Mussels

Mussels need to be cleaned and debearded before cooking. Scrub the outside under cold water, and use a knife to remove the ‘beard’ (the fibrous material sticking out from the shell). Discard any mussels that are cracked or don’t close when tapped.

Cooking Your Seafood

With your seafood prepped, it’s time to cook! Remember, most seafood cooks quickly, so keep a close eye on it.

  • Grilling Seafood

Grilling is a favourite method of cooking seafood in Australia. Whether it’s fish, prawns, or squid, keep the grill hot, the cooking time short, and the seasonings simple. A squeeze of lemon and a sprinkle of fresh herbs often do the trick.

  • Oven Baking Seafood

Baking is a fantastic way to prepare seafood. With a bit of butter or olive oil, some seasonings, and a hot oven, you can create a healthy and delicious meal. Remember, baking times vary depending on the type and size of the seafood. Always check for doneness by ensuring the flesh is opaque and flakes easily with a fork.

  • Pan-Frying Seafood

For a quick, delicious meal, try pan-frying. Heat some oil in a pan, add your seafood, and cook until it’s done. Again, this will take little time – most fish fillets cook in just a few minutes per side. For shellfish like prawns or scallops, it’s even quicker!

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Storing Your Seafood

Properly storing seafood can differentiate between a delicious and a disappointing meal. Here’s how to keep your seafood at its best until you’re ready to cook.

  • Refrigerating Seafood

Most seafood should be kept in the coldest part of your refrigerator, usually the bottom shelf. Fish should be used within two days of purchase, and shellfish, like prawns or mussels, should be used the day they are bought.

  • Freezing Seafood

If you will be using your seafood later, freezing is a good option. Wrap it tightly in plastic or foil, then place it in a freezer bag. Squeeze out as much air as possible to prevent freezer burn. Most seafood can be kept in the freezer for up to six months.


Choosing, preparing, and cooking seafood might seem daunting initially, but once you dive in, you’ll find it’s a breeze! With some knowledge, practice, and a dash of adventurous spirit, you’ll be serving up seafood feasts that would make any Aussie proud. So, next time you pass by the seafood wholesale market, you’ll know exactly what to do.