The cook should be well acquainted with the signs of freshness and good condition in fish, as many of them are most unwholesome articles of food when stale, or out of season. The eyes should be bright the gills of a fine clear red, the body stiff, the flesh firm, yet elastic to the touch, and the smell not disagreeable. When all these marks are reversed, and the eyes are sunken, the gills very dark in hue, the fish itself flabby and of offensive odour, it is bad, and should be avoided. The chloride of soda, will, it is true, restore it to a tolerably eatable state,* if it be not very much over-kept, but it will never resemble in quality fish that is fresh from the water.
A good turbot is thick, and full fleshed, ana the under side is of a pale cream colour or yellowish white; when this is of a bluish tint, and the fish is thin and soft, it should be rejected. The same observations apply equally to soles. The best salmon and cod fish are known by a small head, very thick shoulders, and a small tail; the scales of the former should be bright, and its flesh of a fine red colour: to be eaten in perfection it should be dressed as soon as it is caught, before the curd (or white substance which lies between the flakes of flesh) has melted and rendered the fish oily. In that state it is really crimp, but continues so only for a very few hours; and it bears, therefore a much higher price in the London market then, than when mellowed by having been kept a day or two.
Copper Fish or Ham Kettle.
Small Fish Kettle, called a Mackerel Kettle.
* We have known this applied very successfully to salmon which from some hours keeping in sultry weather had acquired a slight degree of taint, of which no trace remained after it was dressed.
The flesh of cod fish should be white and clear before it is boiled, whiter still after it is boiled, and firm though tender, sweet and mild in flavour, and separated easily into large flakes. Many persons consider it rather improved than otherwise by having a little salt rubbed along the inside of of the back-bone and letting it lie from twenty-four to forty-eight hours before it is dressed. It is sometimes served crimp like salmon, and must then be sliced as soon as it is dead, or within the shortest possible time afterwards.
Herrings, mackerel, and whitings, lose their freshness so rapidly, that unless newly caught they are quite uneatable. The herring may, it is said, be deprived of the strong rank smell which it emits when broiled or fried, by stripping off the skin, under which lies the oil that causes the disagreeable odour. The whiting is a peculiarly pure flavoured and delicate fish, and acceptable generally to invalids from being very light of digestion.
Eels should be alive and brisk in movement when they are purchased, but the "horrid barbarity," as it is truly designated, of skinning and dividing them while they are so, is without excuse as they are easily destroyed "by piercing the spinal marrow close to tne back part of the skull with a sharp pointed knife, or skewer. If this be done in the right place all motion will instantly cease." We quote Doctor Kitchener's assertion on this subject; but we know that the mode of destruction which he recommends is commonly practised by the London fishmongers. Boiling water also will immediately cause vitality to cease, and is perhaps the most humane and ready method of destroying the fish.
Lobsters, prawns, and shrimps are very stiff when freshly boiled, and the tails turn strongly inwards; when these relax, and the fish are soft and watery, they are stale; and the smell will detect their being so instantly even if no other symptoms of it be remarked. If bought alive, lobsters should be chosen by their weight and "liveliness." The hen lobster is preferred for sauce and soups, on account of the coral; but the flesh of the male is generally considered of finer flavour for eating. The vivacity of their leaps will show when prawns and shrimps are fresh from the sea.
Oysters should close forcibly on the knife when they are opened: if the shells are apart ever so little they are losing their condition, and when they remain far open the fish are dead, and fit only to be thrown away. Small plump natives are very preferable to the larger and coarser kinds.