My article from the Spring edition of The Best of Times:
Food experts agree that eating fish twice a week is an important part of a healthy diet because of the many benefits it provides. Studies show that omega-3 fatty acids present in fish reduce the risk of heart attack, the build-up of plaque in arteries and the incidence of strokes in people with cardiovascular disease. Possibly its most important effect is reducing the risk of dying from a heart attack. Omega-3 fatty acids have also been significant in reducing hypertension and preventing cancer. In addition to being high in omega-3 fatty acids fish is high in protein and naturally low in fat. Salmon, tuna, halibut, rainbow trout, sardines, mackerel, herring and anchovies contain significant amounts these healthy fats. Salmon, which is readily available has the highest amount of omega-3 fatty acids.
Fish can be contaminated with PCB’s and heavy metals such as mercury and lead that occur as pollutants in water. Pregnant woman, women of child bearing age and children should limit their exposure to heavy metals because they can cause birth defects and slow development, but most health professionals agree that for the older population benefits outweigh risks. As with any food, moderation and variety are the best approach.
Adding Fish to Your Diet
It’s easy to add fish to your diet since its available fresh, frozen or canned. Mild flavored fish easily picks up other flavors. Try substituting a mild flavored fish such as tilapia for a boneless skinless chicken breast in a favorite recipe but be sure to reduce the cooking time.
Fresh salmon has a flavor that requires little enhancement. Farmed Atlantic salmon is what is usually served in restaurants. Many people prefer wild Pacific salmon because it has a more distinctive flavor. Salmon can be served simply with a little fresh dill and a squeeze of lemon.
Tilapia is a mild flavored fish, perfect to serve with a flavorful sauce. Halibut is moist and meaty with a mild flavor.
Canned tuna can be found in most pantries and is perfect for a tuna salad sandwich or a summer pasta salad. Experts recommend buying light tuna, not albacore, because light tuna has lower levels of contaminants.
Your best guarantee of fresh high quality seafood is to find a fishmonger that you can trust. Educate yourself by asking lots of questions. Ask for the best fish available and recommendations on how to prepare it. Fresh fish should have a mild briny odor but no “fishy odor” and have a firm and elastic, not mushy, texture. Fresh fish should be displayed on crushed ice and kept well chilled.
Fish fillets are cut lengthwise from the fish and are usually boneless but may contain a few thin bones that can be pulled out with pliers. Steaks are cut crosswise and contain the backbone but are a good choice for grilling because they are easier to handle.
Because fish can be flash frozen at sea, frozen fish that has been vacuum packed can be a good choice. The term F.A.S. stands for “frozen at sea” and ensures the excellent flavor and texture when cooked. Select packages that have no evidence of freezer burn and show no evidence of previous thawing. Always thaw frozen fish in the refrigerator to maintain the best texture.
Quick and Easy
Fish cooks quickly and can be prepared simply because of its natural flavors. Mild flavored fish are often interchangeable so purchase whatever is freshest. Most fish can be cooked with the same methods used for boneless skinless chicken breasts, but require less cooking time.
Because fish cooks quickly it is easy to overcook. When it is cooked too long, it becomes dry and tough. A good guide to perfectly done fish is to broil, grill or sauté it about 3 to 5 minutes per ½-inch thickness. As the fish protein cooks it changes from translucent to opaque. Lift a small portion near the center of the fish with a knife—it should be opaque but not dry.
Salmon and tuna are often served “rare” in the center but this is a matter of personal preference. Always ask in a restaurant how the chef serves the fish and state your preferences. At home, just cook it 1 to 2 minutes longer.
Because fish contains significant amounts of omega-3 fatty acids that have been shown to provide many healthy benefits, it makes good sense to serve fish twice a week. Keep frozen fish or canned tuna on hand so readily available. Experiment with different kinds of fish and try new recipes and you’ll see how easy it is to take a step toward better health.
The appearance of tender pale greens stalks of asparagus in the supermarket is always one of the first signs of spring. Fresh halibut, available from March to November, starts to appear about the same time. Select a thick piece of halibut so it isn’t overcooked when it’s baked. This recipe is easily doubled- double the ingredients and bake two packets
Halibut and Asparagus in Parchment
Makes 2 servings
8 stalks asparagus
1 (8 ounce) halibut filet, about 1 inch thick
1 teaspoon minced shallot
1 teaspoon grated lemon rind
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon white wine or water
2 lemon wedges
Heat the oven to 400 degrees F. Snap off the bottoms of the asparagus stalks and place them in a microwave safe dish. Add 2 tablespoons water and microwave on high 1 ½ to 2 minutes. By precooking the asparagus it will be cooked tender crisp when the fish is cooked.
Place a 15-inch square of parchment paper on a baking sheet and fold in half. Place the halibut along the fold and cover with the asparagus. Sprinkle with the shallot, lemon rind, and lemon juice. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Dot with the butter and add the wine. Seal the parchment by folding the edges together several times. It’s important that you get the packet sealed so that the fish can cook in the steam inside.
Bake 18 minutes or until the paper is puffed and browned. Remove the packet from the oven and open carefully, allowing the steam to escape. Check the center of the halibut to be sure it’s cooked through. If it isn’t place the packet back in the oven for 2 to 3 minutes longer. Divide in half and garnish with lemon wedges.
SELECTING AND PREPARING ASPARAGUS: Select crisp pale green asparagus with tight firm buds. It will be fresher of it is stored with the stalks in ice. Whether you prefer thin stalks or fatter stalks it is important that they are uniformly thick. To prepare--just snap off the bottoms of the stalks and rinse well. I usually peel the bottom of fatter stalks but this is just a personal choice.