You Are What You Cook

Quality is Everything

What do you do when you plan to buy a smartphone or a fitness band? You gather all relevant information available, you ask friends and family for reviews and suggestions, you question people at the store about value and performance. You take all responses and make an informed decision. The due diligence is necessary; you want to make sure you get the most bang for your buck.

Why is quality so important?

Quality of produce makes all the difference to your cooking
And if it is, we’ll look for the best everywhere, right? Especially when we talk about food. Why do older people always refer to the good ol’ days, when food was fresh and of superlative grade, when we have access to much more variety and options now? The difference is in the calibre of produce.
Chef Ranjeet Jadhav, Group Executive Chef at a celebrated Asian establishment in Pune has this to say about quality of produce: “Quality makes all the difference. For example, when it comes to vegetables, the flavours and texture of elements in the final dish will vary, depending on how fresh the produce is. Yellowing broccoli will not retain crunch and taste in a stir fry. Also, there’s more wastage involved, since you would want to pare off the unsuitable bits. For meats, it’s important to take into account the grade, and sometimes, weight. So, meat from a leg of lamb that weighs more than 800-1000 grams would be tough and require longer cooking time. For seafood, it’s important to know that you’re using fish that has been freshly caught; ideally, this should reach your kitchen no longer than within twenty-four hours of fishing.”

Go Fish

The benefits of including seafood regularly as part of a nutritious diet are well-documented. We know about the lean protein, vitamins and minerals it packs in, and how it does your skin, hair eyes, heart etc. a whole world of good. We agree about how marine bounty generously contributes to our overall fitness and well-being.

Seafood is extolled for its nutritive value, but we often forget about the importance of good quality
Do you, however, ever wonder about the quality of seafood produce that is taken into consideration when the abundance of nutrients is extolled? There are various factors that impact the freshness and quality of seafood. For example, seafood that has not seen clean environs after being caught and has been stored incorrectly will score less on both freshness and quality. This, consequently, affects the quality of nutrients that your body has access to when you consume the finished product.
So what do you look for to judge the freshness and quality of your marine produce? Meghana Kulkarni, a documentation manager by profession and fish fanatic by passion shares some hands-on experience: “That adage about fresh fish not smelling ‘fishy’—it really is true. It smells fresh, and is shiny and firm to the touch. The eyes look clear and not glazed. It is important that seafood is properly cleaned in a sanitary environment, and accurately weighed. It’s great to know the origin of the catch, and whether it conforms to quality standards, but that usually doesn’t happen when you buy fish from the market; you have to take the seller’s word for it.”
What about availability—is fish fresh all throughout the year? “There are seasons when there’s not a lot of fresh catch available, especially in the rains. Also, in a tropical country like ours, storage conditions need to be optimal.”
All good points, most people who work with seafood would concur. Most fish that is sold in our local markets reaches us about some days after it is caught. The shipment changes hands frequently, from the time of fishing to the point of sale, with no standard practices defined for suitable preservation. So sometimes it is kept in a cool box on a bed of shaved ice, sometimes it’s just a block of frozen ice. Inconsistent storage conditions take a toll on the catch, which reflects in the overall quality. When this reaches your kitchen, and ultimately, your table, the result could be a less than satisfactory meal experience. In extreme cases, it could mean a trip to the doctor.

What Lies Beneath

It may be fine to say that cooking techniques aside, your dish is the sum total of the purity of the ingredients used.

Your choice of ingredients determines the quality of food on your table

So, what can you do to ensure you put great quality seafood on the table for your loved ones?

You could look to find fish that has been processed within hours of harvesting, keeping the goodness and freshly-caught flavour intact. Seafood that complies with international standards of quality and sizing, with best processing and storage practices in place. And if this is available all year round, then that’s really the best thing to happen.
The choice between fresh or frozen is yours to make. What really matters is origin, quality and storage conditions, right up to the time of delivery. And sometimes, frozen scores over “fresh” available locally, the primary reason for this being the handling of seafood, starting from the time of harvesting. Chef Jadhav agrees. “Frozen seafood is great to work with because flash freezing seals in freshness. Also, IQF (individually quick frozen) portions mean you can use as much as you need. When thawed correctly, these work beautifully in dishes. With a good brand, you are assured of the quality, which may not necessarily be the case with a local fish supplier.”

Coast to Coast

Fresh fish speaks of the sea
Good quality seafood is beautiful to look at and taste, and needs minimal embellishment and seasoning. It speaks of the glorious, cool waters it comes from, a long way off.
Many of us, especially those who live far away from the coast, don’t remember what the sea smells like. It smells like fresh fish. Or is it the other way round?

About the Author
An incorrigible gastronome, Rupika V is on a perpetual quest to find the best food around, and will happily travel far to find it.
Image Credit: Cover
Image Credit: Quality is Everything
Image Credit: Go Fish
Image Credit: What Lies Beneath
Image Credit: Coast to Coast

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