Fish has a high level of protein, is easy to digest and is considered an important part of a healthy diet. Some fish have an added bonus because they contain omega-3 fatty acids. These fatty acids – docosahexaeonic acid (DHA) – occur mostly in fatty fish like herring, salmon and mackerel. They are thought to lower blood pressure, to strengthen the immune system and to have positive effects on the development of the nervous system and the cardiovascular system.
Two newly published articles in the March 2013 science journal, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, describe how the researchers analyzed the impact of omega-3 fatty acids at a systemic level and they also described their underlying molecular mechanisms for the first time. The teams working at Jena University Hospital in Germany and at the University of Pennsylvania examined the effects of omega-3 fatty acids on the cardiovascular system and were able to show, for the first time, that DHA directly influences blood pressure.
According to the Mayo Clinic, Omega-3 fatty acids may decrease triglycerides, lower blood pressure, reduce blood clotting, boost immunity and improve arthritis symptoms and, in children, may improve learning ability. Eating two servings a week of fish, particularly fish that’s rich in omega-3 fatty acids, appears to reduce the risk of heart disease and sudden cardiac death.
Fatty fish, such as salmon, herring and tuna, contain the most omega-3 fatty acids and, therefore, offer the most benefit, but many types of seafood contain small amounts of omega-3 fatty acids. Most freshwater fish have less omega-3 fatty acids than do fatty saltwater fish. However, some varieties of freshwater trout have relatively high levels of omega-3 fatty acids.
Look for seafood rich in omega-3s, such as:
- Tuna (fresh)
Only buy fish that is refrigerated or properly iced. Fresh fish should smell fresh and mild, not fishy, sour or ammonia-like. Whole fish and fillets should have firm, shiny flesh and bright red gills free from slime. When buying frozen fish, avoid packages placed above the frost line or top of the freezer case. If the package is transparent, look for signs of frost or ice crystals. These could mean the fish has been stored a long time or thawed and refrozen — in which case, choose another package.
Healthy Ways to Cook Fish
Baking fish allows you to get the satisfying crunch of fried fish without all the fat. Just because it’s baked, though, doesn’t mean it’s healthy: Watch the amount of butter, oil, mayonnaise, or cheese called for in the recipe.
It’s easy and delicious to cook fish fillets in packets of parchment paper, a technique called “en papillote”. The fish is cooked by the trapped steam. If you don’t have parchment paper on hand, use aluminum foil to make the packets. The fish needs to bake for only 10 to 15 minutes at 400 degrees F.
When the weather’s not right for grilling, try broiling instead. Broiling is great when you want a fast, simple, hassle-free preparation with delicious results.
It gives fish a nicely browned exterior with the convenience of a temperature-controlled heat source. For easy cleanup, line the broiler pan with a piece of greased foil.
This gentle cooking method is perfect for seafood. Poaching keeps fish moist and won’t mask the delicate flavor of the fish.
To poach fish: use vegetable or chicken stock or a homemade broth of aromatic herbs and spices.
Use a pan big enough to lay each piece of fish down flat.
Pour in enough liquid to just barely cover the fish.
Bring the liquid to a simmer and keep it there.
If you see any bubbles coming up from the bottom of the pan, it’s too hot–the liquid should “shimmer” rather than bubble. The ideal poaching liquid temperature is between 165 and 180 degrees F (74 to 82 degrees C).
Steaming is another gentle cooking method. It produces a mild-tasting fish that is often paired with a flavorful sauce.
Rub the fish with spices, chopped herbs, ginger, garlic and chili peppers to infuse flavor while it cooks.
Use a bamboo steamer or a folding steamer basket with enough room for each piece of fish to lie flat.
Pour about 1½ inches of water into the pan.
Place the steamer over the water, cover the pot, and bring the water to a boil.
Begin checking the fish for doneness after 10 minutes.
When you’re grilling fish, keep a close watch. Fish only takes a few minutes per side to cook. If the fillets are an even thickness, they may not even require turning–they can be cooked through by grilling on one side only.
Brush the fish lightly with oil and spray the grill with nonstick cooking spray.
Place fish near the edge of the grill, away from the hottest part of the fire. (Don’t try to lift up the fish right away; it will be stuck to the grill).
Turn the fish over when you see light grill marks forming.
Fish should be cooked to an internal temperature of 145 degrees F. If you don’t have a food thermometer, you can determine whether fish is properly cooked by slipping the point of a sharp knife into the flesh and pulling it aside. The flesh should be opaque and separate easily.
White Wine and Garlic Steamed Clams
This dish makes a great appetizer.
- 3 pounds manila or littleneck clams
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 1 tablespoon minced garlic
- 1 cup thinly sliced shallots
- 1½ cups dry white wine
- 2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh Italian parsley leaves
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 8 large slices sourdough or country bread, each about ½-inch thick
Scrub the clams and rinse them in four rounds of cold water to remove any sand and grit.
Heat a 12-inch skillet with a cover over medium-high heat and add the olive oil. Add the garlic and shallots and sauté until fragrant and tender, about 1 minute.
Add the wine and cook for about 1 minute more. Add the clams and cook covered until the clams open wide, 5 to 10 minutes, stirring every few minutes.
Add the 2 tablespoons butter, the parsley and season with pepper. Toast the bread on a stovetop grill or in the broiler about 1 minute, turning once.
Discard any unopened clams and serve right away in bowls with the bread and pan juices.
Shrimp with Oregano and Lemon
This is another great appetizer. You can turn it into a main dish by serving the shrimp and sauce over rice or pasta.
The sauce is also delicious spooned over grilled swordfish or any other meaty fish.
- 1/2 cup salted capers—rinsed, soaked for 1 hour and drained
- 1/2 cup fresh oregano
- 1 garlic clove, minced
- 3/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
- 3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
- Salt and freshly ground pepper
- 2 1/2 pounds large shrimp, shelled and deveined
On a cutting board, finely chop the drained capers with the oregano and garlic. Transfer the mixture to a bowl and stir in 1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons of the olive oil, along with the lemon zest and lemon juice. Season the sauce with pepper.
Heat a stove top grill.
In a large bowl, toss the shrimp with the remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil and season lightly with salt and pepper.
Grill shrimp, turning once, until the shrimp show grill marks and are cooked through, about 3 minutes per side. Remove the shrimp to a platter.
Spoon some the sauce on top and serve. Pass the remaining sauce with the shrimp platter.
MAKE AHEAD The sauce can be refrigerated overnight. Bring it to room temperature before serving. Serve with crusty bread.
Red Snapper Livornese
Serve with rice or couscous and a salad or steamed broccoli.
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 small onion, diced
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 cup homemade or store-bought marinara sauce
- 1 cup dry white wine
- 2 tablespoons capers, chopped
- 1/2 cup sliced black olives, drained
- 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
- 1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley
- 1 pound red snapper fillets
Preheat oven to 400 degrees F (200 degrees C).
In a medium saucepan, heat olive oil and saute onion until tender, about 5 minutes. Add garlic and saute for 1 minute. Stir in marinara sauce, wine, capers, black olives, red pepper flakes and parsley. Bring to a boil and simmer for 10 minutes.
Spread 1/2 cup of the sauce in an 11 x 7 inch baking dish and arrange the snapper fillets in a single layer in the dish. Pour the remaining sauce over all.
Bake for 15 minutes for 1/2 inch thick fillets or 30 minutes for 1 inch thick fillets. Baste once with the sauce while baking. Snapper is done when it flakes easily with a fork.
1 ¼ pounds center-cut salmon fillet, skinned and cut lengthwise into 4 strips
- 1/2 cup plain panko crumbs
- 1/4 cup chopped herbs (basil, parsley, oregano)
- 1 garlic, minced
- 1 small shallot, chopped
- 1/4 teaspoon each salt & pepper
- 1 tablespoon truffle oil
- 2 tablespoons lemon juice
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
Preheat the oven to 400°F. Coat a 9-by-13-inch baking dish with cooking spray.
Mix the stuffing ingredients together in a medium bowl. Working with one piece of salmon at a time, spread about 3 tablespoons of the breadcrumb mixture over the salmon.
Starting at one end, roll the salmon up tightly, tucking in any loose filling as you go. Insert a toothpick through the end to keep the rolls from unrolling.
Place in the prepared dish and repeat with the remaining salmon strips.
Bake the rolls until just cooked through, 15 to 20 minutes. Remove the toothpicks before serving.
Italian Style Paella
Fregola, the pearl-sized pasta that is similar to couscous, makes an excellent substitute for rice in this paella-style dish; it soaks up a lot of the cooking liquid from the dish and still stays chewy.
- Large pinch of saffron threads
- 6 ½ cups warm water
- 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 medium onion, finely chopped
- 3 large garlic cloves, thinly sliced
- 1 pound fregola (2 1/4 cups)
- 1/2 pound Italian sausage, thinly sliced
- 1 cup canned diced tomatoes
- 1 cup dry white wine
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 2 pounds large shrimp, shelled and deveined
- 2 pounds red snapper, cod or monkfish, cut into 2-inch pieces
- 1 pound mussels, scrubbed and debearded
- 2 tablespoons chopped flat-leaf parsley
In a small bowl, crumble the saffron in 1/2 cup of the warm water and let stand for 10 minutes.
Meanwhile, heat the olive oil in a very large, deep sauté pan. Add the onion and garlic and cook over high heat, stirring, until lightly browned, 2 minutes. Add the fregola and sausage and cook, stirring, until the sausage starts to brown, about 2 minutes. Add the tomatoes, white wine, saffron and its soaking liquid and the remaining 6 cups of warm water to the sauté pan and bring to a boil.
Stir in 1 1/2 teaspoons of salt and 1/2 teaspoon of black pepper, cover and cook over low heat until the fregola is very chewy and soupy, about 10 minutes.
Season the shrimp and red snapper with salt and pepper and add them to the pan along with the mussels, nestling them into the fregola. Bring to a boil. Cover the pan and cook over low heat until the fregola is al dente, the fish is just cooked through and the mussels have opened, about 12 minutes longer.
Remove the pan from the heat and let the paella stand for 5 minutes; the fregola will absorb a bit more of the liquid, but the dish should still be brothy. Discard any mussels that do not open. Sprinkle the fregola with the chopped parsley and serve.