I recently bought some tilapia fillets at the grocery store. Upon frying the fish, I tasted an unpleasant, muddy flavor that perhaps was due to the fish's algae diet. What can be done other than stop eating tilapia?

I recently bought some tilapia fillets at the grocery store. Upon frying the fish, I tasted an unpleasant, muddy flavor that perhaps was due to the fish's algae diet. What can be done other than stop eating tilapia?

— Karl V., Prospect

There's a reason, Karl, that tilapia is regarded in restaurant circles as "the fish chefs love to hate."

Devoid of its own distinctive taste, the freshwater species assumes the flavor of whatever it's cooked with. Tilapia could be dubbed "tofu of the sea" — not exactly the ideal image.

While tilapia do, indeed, munch algae, we wonder if the off taste you detected was actually a sign of spoilage. It's worth noting that at least three days have elapsed since grocers' "fresh" fish was swimming, more likely up to 10 days, says Jim Godin, sales manager for Ocean Beauty Seafoods, a Seattle company with local distribution.

Godin says his fish hold up that long. But many restaurateurs — even Moe's owners — agree that buying flash-frozen, vacuum-sealed fish is the only way to ensure freshness outside local fisheries' peak seasons.

Savvy shoppers ask fishmongers if they can smell a fish before it's packaged. Most are happy to hold fillets while you take a whiff. A "fishy" smell is a sign that the specimen is past its prime.

If you already have a fish on your hands that's just started to turn, you can revive it somewhat with a brief poach in distilled white vinegar. Our kitchen testers were skeptical of this trick, but it really does help and may mask the "muddy" smell.

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