The How-To: Shop Like a Pro
Best for: Selection
New Deal Fish Market
At this East Cambridge market (pictured above), count on screamingly fresh fish and a knowledgeable staff to talk shop with you. The know-how of owner Carl Fantasia and his team is especially crucial here, since the store stocks an exceptional range of products to serve its culturally diverse neighborhood. Check the case for less-expected species like branzino, scup (local sea bream), pollack, and fresh sardines, not to mention bargain items like salmon collars, monkfish livers, and odd cuts of tuna.
622 Cambridge St., Cambridge, 617-876-8227, newdealfishmarket.com.
*Shopping tip: When buying a whole fish, Fantasia says to look for little to no aroma, clear eyes; bright red, moist gills; and an overall shiny appearance.
Best for: DIY Sushi
The selection at Sakanaya reads like a high-end sashimi-bar menu—ocean trout, hamachi, whelks, and impeccable cuts of tuna. Owner Yoshi Kawamura knows his food-and-money-conscious Allston audience, so he keeps his prices in check, specifies wild or farmed on package labels, and stocks all the accessories you need for a make-your-own sushi night: rice, rolling mats, chopsticks, Kewpie mayo, sesame seeds—even mochi for dessert.
75 Linden St., Allston, 617-254-0009, sakanayaboston.com.
Best for: Live Lobsters
Alive and Kicking Lobsters
This Cambridge hideaway houses huge blue tanks containing hundreds of pounds of live lobsters for sale. Owner Louis Mastrangelo, who sources daily from Canada, Maine, and right across the river in South Boston, keeps his prices reasonable: typically under $7 per pound for one-and-a-quarter-pounders in the summer.
269 Putnam Ave., Cambridge, 617-876-0451, aliveandkickinglobsters.com.
*Shopping tip: For lobster roe, you’ll need to seek out a female lobster. Mastrangelo says that a female lobster’s first pair of swimmerets—the tiny claws on the crustacean’s underside—will be soft and feathery.
Best for: Take-Home Dinners
The best place to buy raw seafood west of Boston is also the best place to buy it cooked. Not only can you eat three ocean-inspired meals a day at Captain Marden’s on-site restaurant, but you can take home heat ’n’ serve entrées like baked stuffed lobster and haddock au gratin from the market. They’ll even mail frozen dinners to far-flung friends and cater your cocktail party.
279 Linden St., Wellesley, 781-235-0860, captainmardens.com.
Best for: Preserved Fish
The only thing more stunning than the selection of smoked, dried, salted, and pickled fish at these Russian specialty markets might be the reverse sticker shock. You could lose an afternoon sorting through the smorgasbord of herring (don’t miss the tangy fillets with onions at the prepared-foods counter), not to mention the hot- and cold-smoked mackerel, paddlefish, eel, butterfish, trout, and salmon belly for—are we reading this right?—less than $2 per pound.
424 Cambridge St., Allston, 617-787-1511; 1432 Beacon St., Brookline, 617-739-8450; bazaarboston.com.
Best for: Steals and Deals
Brighton Fish Company Brothers
Michael and Andrew Bulger may be new on Boston’s fish scene, but they know how to run a business. Not only is their product pristine and often local, but their prices meet—and even beat—those at comparable supermarkets. They pay it forward, too: When they get a good deal on fish, so do you (check their website for daily specials). The store also offers regular discounts for seniors, students, and members of the military, and has an in-house community-supported fish share in the works.
162 Chestnut Hill Ave., Brighton, 617-903-3750, brightonfishcompany.com.
Best for: Local Shellfish
Island Creek Oyster Farm
The aquaculture company recently introduced a retail outlet for their in-demand oysters—a new store at the farm’s Duxbury Bay “World Headquarters,” which stocks the marquee bivalves, as well as other seasonal items like hard-shell and razor clams, mussels, whelks, and even the occasional pile of crunchy, salty sea beans.
296 Parks St., Duxbury, 781-934-2028, islandcreekoysters.com.
*Shopping tip: When buying oysters, Ico president Chris Sherman recommends looking for bivalves that are shut tight, cold, damp, hefty, and have a deep cup.
Best for: Buying, Then Trying
Here’s a perk of shopping at a fish market that also runs a restaurant down the block: Anything you buy from the case at Courthouse Fish Market, East Cambridge’s fishmonger-slash-Portuguese bodega, can be fried or grilled to order if you bring it to the restaurant counter. You’ll definitely want to take advantage of that during soft-shell-crab season (read: now), because a juicy, batter-fried whale on a soft bun might be the best seafood purchase you make this summer.
484 Cambridge St., Cambridge, 617-876-6716, courthouseseafood.com.
Best for: A Farmers’ Market Score
Red’s Best CEO Jared Auerbach is using technology to reconnect fishmongers and consumers. He developed a software program that inventories his company’s daily catch from the docks, tagging each fish to the fisherman and vessel that reeled it in. Some of that catch gets packed up for restaurants, while a portion of the rest goes to 12 farmers’-market stands throughout Boston. The upshot? Fresher fish for you and more money for the fishermen, not the middlemen.
*Shopping Tip: When making raw preparations like crudo or ceviche, use only ultra-fresh fish from a trusted source (like, ahem, the above).
Best for: Weekly Deliveries
Cape Ann Fresh Catch
Retail seafood doesn’t get fresher or more eco-friendly than at this North Shore–based community-supported fish share. The catch is that you have to be flexible, as the type of fish you get varies by week. Sign up online for one of three standard options (whole fish, 2-pound fillets, or one-pound fillets) and designate your preferred pick-up day and location.
What Should I Know About Shopping “Sustainably”?
Enjoying the fruits of the sea while supporting proper fishing practices isn’t as easy as it should be. Here are a few general guidelines to keep in mind the next time you hit the market.
1. Go local.
Just as when purchasing any other agricultural product, your best bet is to buy locally caught fish. While supporting the local economy, you’ll get a fresher catch that no doubt required less time, money, and resources to get to your plate.
2. Buy line-caught.
In a perfect world, every fish would be hooked rather than netted. Line-caught fish taste better (they struggle less and don’t get beat up in the net), while dragger nets disturb the ecosystem and pick up so-called bycatch or trash fish (see #3).
3. Try new species.
There are a lot of fish in that sea, and some of the best options are also some of the least popular—varieties that are often associated with terms like bycatch and trash fish. A few to consider: skate, pollack, hake, dogfish, redfish, and dabs.
4. Check with Monterey Bay Aquarium.
Its “Seafood Watch” recommendation program is an excellent at-a-glance source for the most and least responsible choices when it comes to the health of the ocean. Check it out at seafoodwatch.org.
Hungry for more?
Check out our complete “Seafood Lover’s Guide.”