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Old 08-18-2011, 10:51 PM
Location: Californicating Midland, TX since 2017
5,952 posts, read 10,020,841 times
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I remember when I was very young, my uncle and his family took us to a very hyped seafood restaurant.. everyone was very excited to eat there. When the fish got there, I took a bite and it has a heavy ammonia taste to it. I don't think the others minded, or at least I don't remember it that way. Needless to say, the rancid taste of ammonia-laden fish has become a recurring and traumatizing memory.

Fast forward decades to now, some coworkers took me to a seafood restaurant deemed one of their favorites. I ordered their recommended fish dish and with my first bite, I caught a huge wiff of ammonia in my mouth and nose!

What's with the ammonia taste in fish? Is this some acquired taste I'm not aware of? Or have I been unlucky and tasted rotten fish in both instances?
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Old 08-18-2011, 11:08 PM
Location: San Antonio/Houston
30,014 posts, read 46,126,593 times
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Fish that is not fresh can smell and taste like ammonia. It is a product of decomposition. Don't eat it if it smells like that.
But: was it a skate? Skate or shark, has a urinary tract that is unlike other fishes (or mammals), but empties through the skin. That is why the meat of large sharks, for instance, must be treated to get rid of the ammonia taste.
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Old 08-18-2011, 11:19 PM
18,856 posts, read 28,291,947 times
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ugh...that was rotten fish. Fresh fish don't have a "smell", they smell like the ocean, fresh, salty, tangy. And the taste is not "fishy" or "amonia" like...
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Old 08-19-2011, 01:53 AM
Location: Victoria TX
42,672 posts, read 66,777,219 times
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I don't think it is simply a case of "going bad". I've been in the neighborhood of lots of fish that was going bad and it never smelled like ammonia. But I was once served fish in a home where it smelled very strongly of ammonia, and the host seemed to be unaware of it. It seemed fresh and tasty in every way, but it still had that smell. I ate it, with no ill effects. That was the only time I've ever smelled ammonia in fish, and have myself wondered ever since that the cause might have been.
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Old 08-19-2011, 04:01 AM
Location: Oxford, England
13,035 posts, read 20,562,980 times
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I have never , ever smelled ammonia on any of the fish I have eaten. That sounds rather unpleasant as the olfactory is so important when it comes to eating and tasting.
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Old 08-19-2011, 09:43 AM
Location: Heading to the NW, 4 sure.
4,470 posts, read 6,251,779 times
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Capt. Seafood here:

The ammonia-like smell is because the fish is not fresh. It is a product of decomposition. Don't eat it if it smells like that. It might not make you sick, but then again it might. Why risk it or have an unpleasant experience? Fish should have only a briny aroma of the sea. If it has a fishy smell from being in plastic, briefly rinse in fresh water. If the fishy smell persists or is strong, take it back and demand a refund. For that reason, it's best to cook fish the same day you buy it.

Also, as said above, fish i.e. shark, rays, skate do excrete urine through the skin. In my years in the seafood biz only very few people know how to propertly prepare shark, etc.

I know the restaurant biz very well and only go to the ones that sell "fresh" or very good frozen seafood/fish products. Be sure to ask and even see the product before it is cooked.

HW aka Capt. Seafood.
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Old 08-19-2011, 02:08 PM
Location: Houston, TX
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Maybe they were older and Scandinavian...Enjoying Lutefisk! Its essentially soaked in lye. The most disgusting food I ever ate.
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Old 08-19-2011, 02:44 PM
Location: Nantahala National Forest, NC
6,423 posts, read 275,480 times
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sounds to me like it is way past prime...., pluse not tasty, so toss it!
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Old 08-19-2011, 05:48 PM
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My DH and I once went to a local seafood resto here and I ordered shrimp. When my plate was served the smell of ammonia was HORRENDOUS!! I love and eat a lot of seafood and had never been served anything like this! The server tried to argue with me about it, said nothing was wrong with it, but my husband agreed with me it was awful. I wouldn't eat it and made them bring me something else and never went back.

The only other time I experienced that was at home, I had purchased some crab meat in a carton that had a very mild ammonia smell when cooked (not in the carton) but I ate it anyway, it tasted fine and didn't get sick. I think the smell is when it is going off.
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Old 08-19-2011, 08:50 PM
8,268 posts, read 9,747,440 times
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Others nailed it: it is fish that is not fresh. To get served it in a restaurant in unacceptable, as they should be able to smell it too when it is cooking.

I get the occasional amonia fish from the grocery store, usually from shell fish where it is completely frozen (I'm in AZ thats how we roll for most fish) and you can't tell until you are steaming it. I've eaten it before when not too strong and not gotten sick, but I usually just dump it and take the receipt back to get my money returned.

One exception is rays/skates, for some reason they seem to often have a hint of amonia smell even when relatively fresh. Soak 'em in milk for awhile it'll take care of it, I have no idea why.
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