As healthy eaters, we acknowledge fish health benefits, but buying and cooking fish can be disconcerting because of the health hazards surrounding fish.
Fish is the largest single source of wild food in the human diet as well as the product of a rapidly growing branch of farming.
Fish are a source of important nutrients such as protein and omega-3 fatty acids.
Types of Fish
All fish are broken down into two very broad categories – FISH and SHELLFISH.
Basically, FISH are equipped with fins, backbones, and gills, whereas, SHELLFISH have shells of one form or another.
Fish without shells are separated into two groups, freshwater and saltwater fish.
Shellfish are separated into two basic categories – crustaceans and mollusks.
Fish are further categorized according to how they swim…
- Flatfish – swim horizontally along the bottom of the sea, oval-shaped, eyes on the side of the body facing up
- Roundfish – rounder body, with eyes on both sides of the head.
Finally, depending upon fat content determines yet another category…
Nutritional Value of Fish
Like meats, fish and shellfish are good sources of protein, the B vitamins, and various minerals.
Iodine and calcium are special strengths.
Many fish are lean and low in cholesterol, with few calories.
Those fish listed above as to contain high amounts of fat are referred to as “oily fish.” They are also higher in omega-3 fatty acids.
Whitefish have less fat than oily fish and contain less omega-3 fatty acids.
Like other fats that are liquid at room temperature, fish fats are usually referred to as “oils.”
Benefits of Fish Oils
Life in cold water has graced fish with highly unsaturated omega-3 fatty acids.
Our bodies cannot make these fatty acids very efficiently from other fatty acids, so what we eat, supplies most of them.
Research indicates these omega-3 fatty acids have a beneficial influence on our metabolism.
They are also essential to the development and function of the brain and the retina, as well as ensure the health of our central nervous system.
IMPORTANT HEALTH TIP:
Our immune system responds to injuries by generating inflammation. This process kills cells in the area of the injury, preparing to repair the area. But some inflammations happen naturally and do more harm than good; more importantly, they can damage arteries and contribute to heart disease, or some cancers. By routinely eating omega-3 fatty acids helps limit these “natural” inflammatory responses, and thus lowers the probability of heart disease and cancer. By reducing the body’s readiness to form blood clots, it also lowers the chances of stroke and lowers the artery-damaging form of blood cholesterol.
The American Heart Association recommends eating fish at least two times per week as part of a healthy diet.
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Fish Health Hazards
Seafood carries about the same risk of bacterial infections and poisons as any other meat.
Generally, cooking seafood to a minimum of 140ºF/60ºC will destroy bacteria and parasites.
However, cooking will NOT eliminate chemical toxins.
Since rain washes almost every kind of chemical pollutant we create into the rivers and oceans, where they are consumed by fish and shellfish.
Heavy metals, including mercury, lead, cadmium, and copper interfere with our oxygen absorption and cause brain damage.
Other pollutants cause liver damage, cancer, and hormonal problems.
There is no direct way for us to know whether fish contain unhealthy levels of these pollutants.
Advisories for consuming certain types of fish from the Great Lakes have been active for decades, due to chemical pollutants in the water.
If you buy FRESH fish, take precautions and make sure you are buying from a reputable fishmonger or supermarket that buy from day boats (boats that go out just for the day).
This is why I prefer to buy farmed fish for consumption.
Considerations When Buying and Storing Fish
Make sure the fish is sitting on frozen ice, with no puddling. Melted ice indicates bad fish.
Visually inspect the fish. Avoid opaque white spots or edges, and eyes that are anything but clear and shiny.
Beware of unusual spots of color, which indicate bruising or spoilage.
Denser, less fragile fish like scallops, swordfish steaks, will freeze better than more delicate fish, trout, sole, and flounder.
I typically buy frozen fish fillets or steaks; cod, halibut, orange roughy, mahi-mahi or red snapper.
I keep it frozen until the day I am going to prepare the fish.
In the morning, I will remove the fish (still in its packaging) from the freezer and place over ice, in a large bowl, inside the refrigerator.
Avoid thawing in a bowl of water, as this could accelerate the deterioration of the fish.
Never keep fish in the refrigerator for more than 24 hours.
Notes for Cooking Fish
James Beard always said to cook fish for 10 minutes per inch of thickness at high heat (450ºF), for grilling, baking, broiling or sauteing.
I usually cook fish steaks at about 8 minutes per inch thickness; however, it is important to watch fish very carefully, as it can quickly become overcooked.
BRAISING – use thick steak cuts, in an ovenproof skillet, lightly brown on both sides and finish in the oven. Create a braising stock using wine, stock, water, vinegar or a combination. Flavor with onions, garlic, shallots or other similar ingredients.
POACHING – Combine all your ingredients, including the fish and poaching liquid – bring to a boil. Turn off heat, cover and allow everything to cook for about 30 minutes. The liquid can be water, wine, or stock. Flavorings can be lemon zest, bay leaves, parsley, salt, peppercorns, celery, cilantro. Some chefs suggest wrapping the fish in cheesecloth because poached fish is very delicate and can easily break apart.
GRILLING – although the most difficult, it is my favorite method for fish. Use a fish basket or a perforated grill pan to deter sticking. Shrimp only take 5 minutes. Although hard to judge cooking times, use a good instant-read thermometer for assurance – but I usually under-cook the fish slightly, as with beef steak, residual carry over heat will finish the cooking.
SAUTEING – a simple sauce is best with a thin fillet of fish. Use mostly butter because it will give a crispy coating. Simply dredge the fish through a light coating of flour, cornmeal for fine bread crumbs, with salt and pepper. Heat the butter (with just a little olive oil, to keep the butter from burning), saute both sides of the fish. Do not crowd the pan. The secret to sauteing is making sure the pan is sufficiently hot to quickly sear the outside coating and create a crispy exterior.
Fish tacos are an easy and health-conscious meal and despite being delicious, portions can be controlled.
Fish Tacos by 100 Days of Real Food
Pico De Gallo
- 1 medium tomato about 1/2 lb, seeded and diced
- 1/2 cup diced sweet onion
- 1/2 Serrano or jalapeno pepper seeded and minced
- 1/4 cup fresh chopped cilantro or parsley
- 1 Tablespoon fresh lime juice
- Pinch of salt
- 1/2 cup whole wheat flour
- 1 1/2 teaspoons chili powder
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
- 1 pound white fish such as cod, rockfish or tilapia cut into 1 - 2 inch chunks (I used cod)
- 2-3 Tablespoons butter or olive oil - NOT MARGARINE
- 1 lime halved
- Warm whole-grain corn or flour tortillas for serving
Make the pico de gallo, in a medium bowl, toss together all the ingredients.
Prepare the fish.
- Mix the flour and seasonings on a plate. Dip the fish chunks into the flour, coating all sides. Transfer to a clean plate.
- In a large saute pan, melt the butter over medium heat.
- Add the fish and cook until the fish is golden brown on the bottom, 3-4 minutes (depending on the thickness of the fish).
- Flip and cook until it is golden brown on the other side and the center is white, flaky and cooked all the way through, 7-8 minutes.
- Add more butter to the pan if necessary to keep from drying out.
- Squeeze lime on top.
- Serve the fish with warm tortillas and freshly made pico de gallo.