Cooking with fish
By Karen K. Will
Fish is an essential part of the human diet. Aside from being an excellent source of protein, fish is easy to digest and has a yard-long list of healthy attributes. Fish, particularly fatty fish like wild salmon and mackerel, contains high levels of long-chain omega-3 fatty acids, known as EPA and DHA. Countless studies indicate that omega-3s promote optimal health by strengthening the immune system, lowering blood pressure, and positively affecting the nervous and cardiovascular systems.
Fish is also a rich source of vitamin D with its anti-cancer and bone-building benefits; astaxanthin, a carotenoid-class antioxidant with powerful anti-inflammatory qualities; and selenium, an essential mineral.
A common misconception is that fish is difficult to cook well, so home cooks tend to play it safe and stick to the more familiar fare of red meat and poultry. Fish, however, is actually easier to cook than its walking and flying protein counterparts, needing just a brief period of heat to cook it to perfection. If you’ve been turned off by overcooked, rubbery fish, or undercooked, watery flesh, don’t give up. All it takes is a little practice to walk that fine line.
The goal of this article is to provide you with simple recipes and preparations for healthy, easy fish: easy to source – salmon, cod, halibut, shrimp, and scallops – and easy to prepare. With these types, there aren’t a lot of bones to contend with, and they are readily available both in the frozen-food section of the market, as well as at the fish counter in larger grocery stores when they’re in season. Numerous mail-order companies also supply sustainable, wild and responsibly caught seafood if you’re willing to pay for that convenience (an excellent source is Vital Choice Wild Seafood & Organics, www.vitalchoice.com).
Halibut is the finest of the white, flaky fish varieties; I like to think of it as the “rich man’s cod.” Its rich, succulent texture yields to the fork nicely, and it’s versatile and delicious in many different preparations.
This recipe is easily adaptable. You can substitute cod or salmon, and as an alternative to crushed pecans you could use hazelnuts, almond meal, or breadcrumbs with equally fabulous results. Yields 2 servings.
1/4 cup crushed pecans
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil or melted butter
2 tablespoons mayonnaise
2 tablespoons sour cream
1 1/2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice or vinegar
1 1/2 teaspoons chopped fresh cilantro, basil, tarragon, or herb of your choice, or 1/2 teaspoon dried
Pinch of salt
2 6-ounce wild Alaskan halibut fillets
Lemon wedges for serving
Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Line baking sheet with parchment paper.
In small bowl, combine pecans, garlic, and oil, and combine well.
In separate bowl, combine mayonnaise, sour cream, lemon juice, herbs, and salt.
Place halibut fillets on prepared baking sheet. Spoon 1 tablespoon mayonnaise sauce over each fillet, then sprinkle each piece with half the pecan mixture, and lightly press down using back of a spoon.
Bake fish for 15 minutes, or until opaque and hot in center. Broil for 1 minute to finish and brown topping. Serve with remaining sauce and lemon wedges.
Salmon is one of the healthiest fatty fish out there. Wild Alaskan salmon is among the purest of all ocean fish, which is why major governmental and consumer organizations recommend it without reservation. A rich source of essential omega-3s, vitamin D and astaxanthin (the red-orange pigment that colors the flesh), wild salmon is king when it comes to flavor. Salmon lends itself to a variety of preparations, from grilling and smoking to baking and poaching.
Sweet and salty
This recipe is easy to double or triple, or halve, depending on how many mouths you are feeding. Yields 2 servings.
2 6-ounce skin-on wild Sockeye or other Alaskan salmon fillets
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
2 tablespoons pomegranate molasses, or berry preserves of your choice
1 teaspoon soy sauce
1 clove garlic, chopped
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Line baking sheet with foil; do not grease foil.
Place fillets, skin side down, on prepared baking sheet. Sprinkle fish with a little sea salt and pepper.
In small bowl, whisk together molasses, soy sauce, garlic, and kosher salt. With spoon or silicone brush, baste fish with half of marinade, reserving the rest. (This can be done up to 12 hours in advance and allowed to marinate in the refrigerator.)
Bake for 5 minutes on center rack, then heat broiler to high (do not remove fish from oven). Broil for 5 minutes, watching carefully; remove from oven. Let rest for 2 to 3 minutes. Check for doneness. Spoon remaining sauce over fish and serve.
Cod is arguably the most versatile and coveted seafood due to its light, flaky texture, and mild, clean, slightly sweet flavor. It appeals to many tastes and works well in many recipes and culinary contexts from baking and steaming to deep frying, as in pub-style fish and chips. While lean and low in calories, wild-caught cod is also high in omega-3s, making it quite a healthful treat.
Mediterranean cod cooked in parchment
The ingredients in this light dish make up a nearly perfect “health food” – simple, yet so delicious you won’t believe it until you taste it. This preparation can also be done with halibut, and with different or more vegetables – broccoli, kale, chard, spinach, carrots, peas, fennel, etc. – added to the parchment bag. Yields 2 servings.
2 parchment paper cooking pouches
1/2 head green cabbage, shredded
1/2 large onion, sliced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 to 1/2 cup Kalamata olives, pitted and halved
2 ounces fresh goat cheese (chevre) or feta, crumbled
2 6-ounce cod fillets, fresh or thawed from frozen
Extra-virgin olive oil
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
Lemon wedges for serving
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Place parchment pouches on baking sheet. Divide cabbage evenly between two pouches, then divide evenly and layer onion, garlic, olives, and cheese. Top each with a cod fillet. Generously drizzle olive oil over each stack and season with salt and pepper.
Bake for 15 to 18 minutes, then remove tray from oven. Let stand for a few minutes before opening pouches to avoid steam burns.
Place each pouch on serving plate and tear open. Season with additional salt and pepper, if desired. Squeeze lemon juice over each portion before serving.
Aside from being a protein powerhouse (4 ounces provides more than 24 grams of protein), shrimp is high in selenium, a vital nutrient not common in other foods. These little sea nuggets have antioxidant and anti-cancer qualities, and contain a good dose of vitamin B12 and omega-3s.
Shrimp is the easiest fish to cook. Little more than 60 seconds of cooking time is necessary when you add a handful to boiling soup or stew at the last minute. The same goes for grilling or pan frying. As soon as the shrimp turn from gray to pink and the translucence turns opaque, remove from heat. Overcooked, rubbery shrimp does not impress.
If your prawns are frozen, thaw in cool water for 1 hour prior to cooking. For ease, buy fresh or frozen “EZ Peel” shrimp, which have the back slit to make peeling and deveining easy. If not, quickly peel and devein prawns this way: Using a pair of sharp kitchen shears, slice down the middle of the back shell right to the tail tip. Then, with your fingers, break open the shell and pull it off, leaving the tail attached. Pull or wash out the vein. Rinse and pat dry.
Make this dish as hot and spicy as you like, and with more or fewer ingredients depending on what you have on hand. Curries are extremely versatile the preparation allows for many substitutes and additions. I like to add extra turmeric (beyond what’s in the curry powder) for its proven anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer health benefits. Yields 4 servings.
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil or butter
1 medium onion, halved and sliced
2 large carrots, peeled and sliced
1 bell pepper, chopped, optional
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 teaspoon minced fresh ginger
1 to 3 tablespoons curry powder, to taste
1 teaspoon turmeric, optional
1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes, optional
1 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
2 cups chicken or vegetable broth
1 can or jar (14 ounces) organic diced tomatoes
Handful of Swiss chard leaves, chopped, optional
1 can (14 ounces) coconut milk, not light
1/2 to 1 pound wild-caught raw shrimp, peeled and deveined
1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro
Plain yogurt or sour cream for garnish
Heat olive oil in large Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add onion, carrots, and bell pepper, if desired, and saute for 5 minutes, or until softened. Add garlic and ginger, and cook for an additional minute.
Stir in curry powder. Add turmeric and red pepper flakes, if desired, along with salt and pepper; cook for 1 minute. Add broth and tomatoes, and stir well. Add chard, if desired. Stir in coconut milk, mixing well. Bring to boil, then reduce heat to low and simmer for 20 minutes.
Add shrimp and cilantro, and cook for 1 to 2 minutes, just until shrimp turns pink and opaque. Remove from heat immediately. Allow to cool for a few minutes, then serve with garnish of yogurt or sour cream.
The curry can be served on its own, or over your favorite rice.
Scallops taste like the sea – in a good way. Saltwater practically oozes out of them when eaten, and when cooked to perfection, they are light and buttery to the palate. Similar to shrimp, these shellfish are simple to cook. Simply saute for about 3 minutes per side in a medium-hot pan with butter or olive oil, and this delicacy is ready to eat.
Scallops are heart healthy, rich in vitamin B12, omega-3s, potassium, and magnesium (which contributes to improved cardiovascular health), and have anti-inflammatory properties.
If your scallops are frozen, thaw them in cool water for 1 hour prior to cooking. Pat them dry and season with a little salt and pepper, or herbs and spices of your choice. To broil or grill, cook for 6 to 8 minutes (3 to 4 minutes per side), just until they’ve turned white and opaque.
To bake, place scallops in a shallow pan and cook at 375 degrees for 12 to 15 minutes, just until white and opaque.
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