How to buy
Alligator meat is packaged in 1, 2 and 5 pound vacuum-packed pouches. Predominately alligator is sold in boneless chunks of tail meat. Though some specialty stores have body meat, ribs and leg meat available as well.
Louisiana Blue Crab is available live at seafood markets, delis and grocery stores. Retailers also sell fresh-picked crabmeat. It’s simply boiled or steamed, unseasoned and ready-to-eat.
Traditionally there are four kinds of crabmeat: Lump, Special, Claw and Crab Fingers. Live, number-one crabs are male and measure 6.5 inches or larger.
Fresh-picked crabmeat is sold in one pound, tightly-sealed, containers. Check for proper labels: kind of meat (Lump, Special, Claw, Crab Fingers), Date Packaged, weight (16oz.) and country of origin. For the best taste and quality, always choose Louisiana products.
The soft-shell is the blue crab in its molted state. Soft-shell crabs are eaten shell and all. They are sometimes battered and deep-fried, grilled or sauteed. The molting process means an abundant supply of soft crabs from late spring to early fall, with May through September ranking as the most productive months.
Peeled crawfish meat is usually marketed in one pound, sealed clear bags. It is usually sold with the fat left on the meat for enhanced flavor. It may also be specially ordered for a slightly higher price with the fat washed off for improved storage. Crawfish fat becomes rancid within 2-6 months when frozen.
Live animals are usually marketed in 35-40 pound plastic mesh sacks. Live animals have the lowest shipping mortality during April, May and early June. Earlier in the year crawfish have thinner shells. Later in the year, high summertime temperatures may heat-stress the animals.
How Should Fresh Fish Fillets Look & Smell?
The color of fresh fish fillets varies, but it should always be bright and uniform, never yellow at the edges. The flesh should be moist, firm and cleanly cut. Fish fillets should have a fresh sea breeze aroma. They should never smell fishy or like ammonia. Today, grocers are required to label seafood according to country of origin. It’s always best to choose American, as the U.S. easily has the most rigorous quality standards. Grocers should display fish in a case, on a thick bed of fresh ice that is not melting, preferably under a cover.
How Do I Spot Quality Frozen Fish?
The package should be undamaged. Fish should never be chalky, a sign of freezer burn. The flesh should never be partially thawed or covered with ice crystals, a sign of thawing and refreezing.
Live sack oysters contain 1½ bushels in a burlap sack. They are not graded to a uniform size or shape. Live graded half-shell oysters are graded to size and may be packed in waxed cardboard boxes or smaller burlap sacks. They may be sold by the count (100-200 per container), or by volume or weight.
When an oyster does not hold its shell closed it is called gapped. A buyer may find a small percentage (up to 15%) of live shell-stock oysters to be gapped. If the oyster closes its shell when tapped with the shucking knife, it is fine for consumption. If it does not close its shell, it should be discarded. Gapping occurs more frequently in the summer when heat stresses live oysters and is often due to improper storage after purchase and before use.
Louisiana oysters vary considerably in salt content. In years of high river discharges or rainfall, oysters may be quite fresh in taste, especially in spring. The rest of the year they are salty, as they are year-round in years with low river discharges or rainfall.
While oysters are good to eat year-round, they are at their peak of plumpness between late November and May due to the fact that they are storing fat (glycogen) for spawning.
Occasionally, shucked oyster juice will be green or pink in color. This is not usually due to spoilage, but to the plants that are in the oysters’ diets.
Post-harvest-treated half-shell oysters are thermally shock-treated or pressure treated in the shell by a process similar to pasteurization. They are marketed in the shell but are not alive. These are produced to minimize exposure to Vibro vuluificus, a bacterium of concern for at-risk people. Other post-harvest treatments are currently being explored for development.
In addition to the standards listed under size range available, most oyster shucking businesses will grade by size upon request of the buyer.
Shucked oysters are sold in gallon, half-gallon, quart, pint, 12 oz., 10 oz. and 8 oz. containers. They may also be sold by count in plastic containers.
Frozen shucked oysters are sold by weight, packed according to buyer specifications.
Shrimp are sized by how many are in a pound with the price increasing as the shrimp become larger.
The freshest shrimp of all are still alive. Their coloring is greyish olive or pinkish tan with translucent flesh.
Fresh (non-live) shrimp indicate they are losing freshness when the head begins to turn black. If the head shows some black color, but the meat in the tail still appears translucent, then it is still fresh. Their shells should be translucent and moist, not dull or dry. Shells should not be slippery, have black edges or spots. There should be no drying on the meat.
Shrimp should have a mild fresh smell of the sea. Never buy seafood with an off odor or a strong ammonia smell.
Frozen shrimp with the head removed have meat that is white in color.
Shrimp will occasionally have a shell discoloration called black spot or melanosis. This is not caused by bacteria and is not spoilage, but rather an enzymatic reaction caused by naturally occurring amino acids and sunlight. The shrimp are still be of good quality and safe to eat.
Outside the coast states, shrimp are frequently sold peeled and deveined (P&D) in frozen five pound blocks. Frozen shrimp should be packaged in a moisture and vapor proof wrap that fits closely around the product. There should be no ice crystals or other signs of thawing and refreezing.
Check for the Country-of_origin label and always purchase shrimp from the USA as America’s quality standards are the highest.
Always check for date packaged.
Grocery stores may also defrost P&D shrimp, display them on ice and sell them by the pound.