Go Fish For Your Health!

January 10, 2012

Fish is one of our healthiest, most inexpensive, and easiest to prepare foods in the market. Find out how to shop, prepare and why you should include fish in your diet!

Fish is one of our healthiest, most inexpensive, and easiest to prepare foods in the market. In fact, local and global groups such as the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations and the World Health Organization recommend that governments emphasize not only the benefits of eating fish for heart health in adults and brain development in babies, but the risks of avoiding fish as well. Fish and shellfish are a great source of high-quality protein, essential nutrients, are low in saturated fat, and contain omega-3 fatty acids.

So why does the average American consume just 16 pounds of fish, as compared to a whopping 118 pounds of red meat annually?

A lot of us are confused about fish. After all, there are more than 500 different species and lots of questions about taste, cooking preparation, and what is safe to eat.

When it comes to value ... buy frozen! Most seafood is put on ice (or even in a freezer) right after it’s caught. Buying frozen seafood will not only save you money, but usually the texture and taste will be better since it hasn't already been defrosted. Place seafood in the refrigerator the night before using, to defrost. Try thawing fish fillets in milk; the milk absorbs the “frozen” taste. Thawing frozen fish on your counter is not recommended, as it can lead to food safety issues. If you’re in a pinch for time, you can run the seafood under cold water to defrost (but typically the texture and flavor will not be as good).

Beware of labels. Lots of retailers and seafood companies are trying to capitalize on the organic trend by selling “organic” fish. Don't be fooled as this is an unregulated product claim, in fact, the USDA has not issued regulations on organic seafood. You will wind up paying 30 percent to 50 percent more, and get ripped off. Your best bet is to look for sustainably farmed and fished fish with theSeafood Watch program. 

Tip: unlike meats and other products, don't refreeze defrosted, unused, or cooked seafood. The consistency is more likely to become freezer burned, resulting in an off flavor and texture.

It's easy to cook fish! 
Fish is naturally tender and contains very little connective tissue. Unlike meat, it requires a short cooking time at a high temperature. Most people actually over-cook fish at home, and find that the fish is dry and tasteless. Best bet is to either poach the seafood or wrap the fish in parchment paper lined aluminum foil that has been coated with olive oil on the inside, fold over loosely, forming a tent, then cook in the oven broiler or on a BBQ.

Cooking Guidelines
• Measure fish (dressed or stuffed, fillets or steaks) at thickest part. 
• Allow 7-10 minutes cooking time per inch of thickness for fresh fish. 
• Allow 12-15 minutes cooking time per inch of thickness for frozen fish. 
• Fish is ready when it is opaque and flakes easily along the natural lines of the fish. 
• Remember the principle of residual heat: a pan will hold heat when it's removed from the heat source, continuing to cook the food for several minutes. For best results, cook fish until it's almost done, then remove the pan from the oven, microwave, stovetop or grill and let it stand for a few minutes to finish cooking.

When fish cooks, the proteins denature or unwind, then reattach to each other; as a result, the cooking process squeezes out water and the molecules shrink, pressing closer together. Because fish have very little connective tissue and fat, the flesh is quite delicate when cooked, so go easy with the spices and sauces. Best bet is marinating, which adds both flavor and moisture to the fish, but marinating should be very brief. If fish flesh sits in acidic ingredients for more than 30 minutes, the acid will begin to denature the delicate proteins, and it will be mushy fish when cooked. Even the richer flesh of salmon and tuna should only be marinated for about an hour.

Is fish safe? 
The question of whether to buy wild or farm raised fish unfortunately does not have a standard answer across all species. Some farm-raised fish, like trout and tilapia, have been tested, and the toxicity (levels of PCBs and dioxins) are lower than those tested in open waters. Some farm-raised salmon, however, continues to test at much higher levels than does its wild (mostly Alaskan) counterparts.

Farmed salmon sometimes has a pink coloring added to give it the color that comes natural to wild salmon (from eating other smaller fish). To be sure of what you are buying, read the fine print on the label. If it says coloring, or natural coloring added, you can be sure that the salmon was farmed.

Tip: Larger fish generally contain more toxins because they eat a large quantity of smaller fish over a longer period of time thus accumulating toxins. For more information about the sustainability of specific species and which are safe for you and your family, visit the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch program.

Fish is a health food!
Marine foods are the only naturally rich food source of the omega-3 fatty acids DHA and EPA which are linked to heart and brain health. Omega-3s are also found in plant foods like walnuts, canola oil and flaxseed but are more difficult for the body to convert. Oily fish like tuna, salmon, mackerel and sardines are some of the top omega-3 sources. 
Try canned and pouch tuna, salmon, and sardines for a healthy addition to salads, sandwiches, spreads and dips.

With these tips you have no reason not to get out there and buy some fish to cook for the family tonight!