The old adage “fish is brain food” could not be more accurate! With doctors now recommending more fish in your diet, this protein staple has become the super food for battling Alzheimer’s, heart disease, cancer, rheumatoid arthritis, osteoporosis, and infections.
Why is fish so healthy for our bodies and minds?
Protein-rich fish is low in the “bad” omega-6 fats commonly found in red meat. White-fleshed fish is lower in saturated fat than any other animal protein. Oily fish are rich with omega-3 fatty acids, or “good” fats. The American Heart Association (AHA) claims that omega-3s decrease the risk of arrhythmias (abnormal heartbeats,) which can lead to sudden death. They also decrease triglyceride levels, slow the growth rate of atherosclerotic plaque, and help to lower blood pressure. Since the human body can’t produce significant amounts of these essential nutrients, fish are an important part of the diet.
The AHA recommends eating two servings of fish (particularly fatty fish,) per week. Each serving is 3.5 ounces cooked, or about ¾ cup of flaked fish. According to the Environmental Defense Fund, the omega-3s found in fatty fish provide the greatest health benefits. Fish that are high in omega-3s, low in environmental contaminants, and eco-friendly include wild salmon from Alaska (fresh, frozen and canned,) Arctic char, Atlantic mackerel, sardines, sablefish, anchovies, farmed rainbow trout and albacore tuna from the U.S. and Canada.
Some types of fish may contain high levels of mercury, PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls,) dioxins and other environmental contaminants. Levels of these substances are generally highest in older, larger, predatory fish and marine mammals. Avoid eating shark, swordfish, King Mackerel, or tilefish because they contain high levels of mercury. Shrimp, canned light tuna, salmon, pollock, and catfish are all low in mercury.
If you can’t buy fresh fish right off the boat, then find a reputable store or fishmonger. Here are a few tips for buying the freshest whole fish and fillets:
Ask what the catch of the day is and whether the fish is thawed or frozen.
Smell the fish. It should smell clean and briny like the sea without smelling fishy.
Poke the fish to ensure firm, shiny flesh that bounces back when touched. The fresher the fish, the brighter and more metallic the skin.
Make sure it has clear, bright, shiny eyes that bulge a bit. A fish’s eyes should never be cloudy.
Examine the gills. They should be bright pink/rich red and wet, never dry or slimy.
Check for vibrant flesh. Pass on fillets and steaks that have visible separations and gaps in the meat. Aging fish can be discolored, have brown or yellow edges, and a spongy consistency.
Look for clear liquid, never milky liquid on fillets.
Make sure you ice your fish for transport. Wash, pat dry, and wrap in wax paper or foil, and refrigerate immediately when you return home.
How to prepare and cook fish
Now that you have selected the freshest fish available and are ready to cook, you can marinade it briefly to add flavor and moisture. However, if fish is left in an acidic environment for longer than 30 minutes it begins to break down and could end up mushy. Marinade with extra virgin olive oil and an acid like lemon or lime juice, chopped tomatoes, or specialty vinegars. Add some fresh herbs like thyme, parsley, oregano, rosemary, or even red pepper flakes and your fish is good to go.
There are several cooking methods you can use.
Grilling – Perfect for cooking sturdy, fatty fish like grouper, salmon, and tuna. Grill lighter fillets in a basket or on foil so they don’t crumble.
Steaming – Place water or fish stock in a large pan. Simmer the liquid and then place the fish in a steamer over the water. Do not boil it as the fish can overcook quickly.
Broiling – Preheat and then broil 3/4” to 1” thick fish about 4-6” from heat on a well-oiled pan. Baste before and during cooking to keep it moist. Cook eight minutes per inch, turning thicker fish halfway through. Do not turn thinner fillets.
Roasting – Season the fish well and crank up the oven temperature to 400 degrees or higher. Roasting concentrates flavor and caramelizes it.
Poaching – Add stock or white wine to aromatic herbs in your pan for poaching liquid. Barely cover the fish with liquid. Slowly bring to a light simmer. Do not bring to a boil or it will overcook. Fillets cook in 8-10 minutes and whole fish in 15-20 minutes.
Baking – Set your oven temperature below 400 degrees. Spray a baking sheet with oil, lay the fish in a single layer, and bake uncovered for about 10 minutes per inch or until done.
Sautéing – Add butter or olive oil to a preheated pan. Cook 2-3 minutes before turning to develop a nice crust or crispy skin. Cook for another minute or two and then remove from heat.
Frying – Usually battered deep-fried fish is added to 375 degree oil and cooked for about four minutes per side. Turn once.
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