Making Fish Less "Fishy"
While most here in the land-locked Midwest don't have a wide familiarity with eating fish, many do realize that fish is pretty healthy. Even the recently released 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines from the USDA encourages us to consume at least 8 ounces of cooked seafood per week. But throw in some environmental concerns, the controversy of choosing farmed versus wild, the hefty price tag, the "fishy" flavor (not to mention the smell), and just not knowing what to do with it ... well, it's no wonder we gravitate toward the more comfortable turf side of protein and avoid all things surf-related.
But fish IS worth a try. Fish (a collective term that includes fresh and saltwater finfish, shellfish like clams, crustaceans like lobster, and other aquatic animal life) are highly nutritious foods, rich in vitamins, minerals, high-quality protein and low in saturated fat. The American Heart Association and the Dietary Guidelines for Americans suggest that everyone consume fish twice per week.
Best ways to prepare and consume fish
Being from the New Orleans area, it's thrilling to think that I could include crawfish étouffée and fried oyster po' boys as part of my healthy diet. But in truth, preparation is a key factor in sustaining fish's better qualities. Just like eating oily sweet potato fries isn't the same thing as eating a plain baked sweet potato, using heavy sauces or deep frying fish greatly alters its nutritional content and, in fact, could promote the illnesses that fish claims to protect against.
So what's the best way to prepare and consume fish? Graciously, the simplest prepping methods are often the healthiest options. These methods include baking, broiling and pan sautéing.
Is farm-raised fish better than wild-caught?
One of the biggest questions is, what's better? Farm-raised or wild-caught? Most farm-raised varieties, especially salmon, are healthful choices. Plus, farmed fish is affordable and available year round.
When buying fresh fish, here are some things to keep in mind:
- The seafood section should look and smell clean;
- Employees must follow good grooming practices and wear clean aprons;
- Employees use gloves or something other than bare hands when touching fish;
- Employees should know how fresh the fish is and where it comes from;
- Fish should be displayed on ice;
- There should be no smell;
- The fish should have clear, un-cloudy eyes, and its flesh should spring back when touch;
- Choose varieties raised or harvested from North or South American waters;
- Fresh fish is highly perishable and should be used within 1-2 days after purchase;
- Keep fresh fish cold (40 degrees or lower) until ready to cook.
Since we live in the Midwest, getting fresh fish can be a challenge. Frozen fish is often an excellent option. Just make sure you thaw frozen fish properly by placing it in the refrigerator. Most small servings of fish (less than a pound a piece) will thaw overnight.
Fish and the environment
For both your personal health and environmental consciousness, choose carefully. Fish can accumulate toxins that, in some cases, may reduce their safety for consumption. Fish with the least amount of mercury in their tissues include:
- blue crab,
- farmed catfish and trout,
- non-white croaker,
- shrimp, and
- fish sticks.
Furthermore, some fish species are being caught faster than they can reproduce, so choosing those in more plentiful supply can help to replenish depleted stocks of the more threatened ones. Several knowledgeable organizations provide resources on the benefits of choosing sustainably produced fish and guidelines for doing so. They include:
- Environmental Defense
- the Monterey Bay Aquarium's Seafood WATCH program
- the Natural Resources Defense Council
Best eco-friendly choices for fish
- Arctic Char (farmed)
- Barramundi (US & Vietnam farmed)
- Bass (US hook and line, farmed)
- Catfish (US)
- Clams, Mussels & Oysters
- Cod: Pacific (AK)
- Crab: King, Snow & Tanner (AK)
- Perch: Yellow (Lake Erie trap net, except Ohio)
- Prawn: Freshwater (Canada & US)
- Rockfish (AK, CA, OR & WA)
- Salmon (AK & New Zealand)
- Sardines: Pacific (Canada & US)
- Scallops (farmed)
- Shrimp (US farmed & AK)
- Smelt: Rainbow (Lakes Erie, Huron, Superior, escept bottom gillnet)
- Tilapia (Canada, Ecuador & US)
- Trout: Lake (Lake Superior, MI)
- Trout: Rainbow (US farmed)
- Tuna: Albacore (Pacific troll, pole and line)
- Tuna: Skipjack (Pacific, troll, pole and line)
- Whitefish: Lake (Lake Michigan, WI)
- Cod: Pacific (Japan & Russia)
- Crab (Russia)
- Lobster: Spiny (Belize, Brazil, Honduras & Nicaragua)
- Mahi Mahi (Costa Rica, Guatemala & Peru)
- Octopus: Common (Portugal & Spain trawl, Mexico)
- Orange Roughy
- Salmon: Atlantic (farmed)
- Sardines: Atlantic (Mediterranean)
- Shrimp (imported)
- Squid (China, India & Thailand)
- Swordfish (imported longline)
- Tuna: Albacore (except US troll, pole and line, and longline)
- Tuna: Bluefin
- Tuna: Skipjack (imported purse seine)
- Tuna: Yellowfin (Atlantic troll, pole and line)
- Whitefish: Lake (Lake Superior, WI)