How to buy good seafood
Don't pay "seafood prices" unless you know it's fresh
There is a long history here, of dependence on seafood. And with Nanaimo being poised at the middle of the Salish Sea, pulling bounty from the local waters, you just know we have some damn fine halibut and salmon, cod and crab, scallops and oysters and clams.
And yet we're also equipped to import fresh seafood when necessary, like lobsters and king crab. That amounts to great
seafood selection in Nanaimo, whether it's in the local markets or in the fine seafood restaurants.
Tips for choosing the freshest seafood
If you're paying full price for seafood, you want it to be as fresh as
possible. Some choice imported fishes like Chilean Sea Bass will turn into a bland white slab after a day or two. Local staples like
rockfish, salmon, halibut and cod keep their freshness for longer, but
you still want the freshest possible.
Are gourmet canned clams available in Nanaimo?
- Fish meat should be glossy in appearance, not dull. When you buy whole fish, look at the eyes; ideally, they will be shiny.
- Smell is the best indicator of freshness. The freshest fish smells like the ocean. However, if there is some fishy smell, that does not mean it is not fresh.
- It's okay for mussels and clams to be
partially open; but if they're wide open, they are "gapers" — dead as a doornail and
unsafe. Oysters should be firmly closed.
- The local dungeness crabs and red rock crabs are best when their shells are hard, which
means they've filled out their shell with meat. At the market, don't reach into a crab tank to
pinch the shells yourself — please just request that you receive
hard-shelled animals. If you want the crabs cleaned (butchered),
you should be extra nice to the fishmonger — consider tipping if there
are more than a few crabs to be "cleaned".
- If you haven't tried sole several times, don't risk buying it for your next potluck. To many people, it tastes like a tire swing. >> Many kinds of sole are fished in the waters off Vancouver Island. Keep an eye out for the extra-delicious lemon sole.
- Wild salmon usually has a better texture and flavour than farmed salmon. The best local
salmon varieties are sockeye, spring and coho — none of which are
farmed (are we wrong?).
- Hand-peeled shrimp is more
expensive than machine-peeled, but it's worth it if you care about the
texture. Machine-peeled shrimp is usually soft and sometimes mushy, while
hand-peeled shrimp retains its delightful chewiness. Note: In BC, the word "shrimp" usually only refers to the smallest variety, whereas the larger, finger-sized shrimp are always referred to as "prawns".
"red snapper" sold in local markets is actually rockfish, unless you're
promised otherwise. It's good, but don't expect the genuine red snapper
found in southern waters.
- Skate is a fish
similar to a manta ray, sold for very reasonable prices. Its meat is
delicious if you know how to prepare it — it's similar to scallops and
- Tiger prawns are not the best prawns
available. If you are eating them on Vancouver Island, it is because
somebody imported them from southeast Asia. They are often farmed in ditches
and frozen in blocks, with a texture that is inferior.
See if you can get local "spotted" or "BC" prawns - the season is
usually open for a short time in the early summer, and smart businesses
freeze blocks of them in water. (Photos of fresh spotted prawns)
Buying Smoked Salmon
Smoked salmon might just be the practise of native culture most readily preserved in the Pacific Northwest. The stuff is so good — it's the delicacy that tourists send home when they're visiting here; it's what we ask mom to mail us when we're abroad. The preserved nature of smoked salmon makes it ideal for transport.
You can buy smoked salmon all over the place in Nanaimo. The supermarkets carry the wares of a famous local cannery, St. Jean's. (The cannery puts out some even finer smoked products too, like smoked tuna — yum!) And then there are the roadside vehicles and such, with people selling a product that can be anywhere from lousy to choice. If you think you won't be very good at identifying which is which, try the supermarkets first. But you'll have to dig around if you want the very best.