Question: I’ve never been much of a fish eater, but I’ve become increasingly aware of the health benefits that fish provides. Can you help me learn how to pick out good fish and how to cook it in a healthful way?
Answer: Yes! More and more, we’re hearing that we should increase our fish intake. But most of us are still stuck on the boneless-skinless-chicken-breast trend from two decades ago, and feel stumped when it comes to fish. Here are some tips that may help:
What Fish to Buy
- Fatty fish — These are the fish that contain lots of omega-3 fatty acids, which are heart-healthy and good for baby brain development. Examples: wild salmon, mackerel, herring, lake trout, sardines and albacore tuna.
- Eco-friendly — For a list of the best and worst fish to buy, in terms of the environment and your health, check out the Environmental Defense Fund’s Seafood Selector. You can print out their “Seafood Pocket Guide” and “Sushi Pocket Guide” to carry with you for quick reference. And if you find your favorite fish on the “don’t eat” list because of mercury or endangered species, don’t worry: they suggest good alternatives and even provide recipes.
- Low in mercury — In general, the smaller the fish, the lower the mercury content. This is because large fish are higher on the food chain, so they’ve eaten more of the smaller and medium-sized fish, and contain those fish’s mercury too.
How to Prepare Fish (these are just a few ideas)
Pretty much all fish is good with citrus, olive oil, and salt & pepper. So when in doubt, use a combo of these items to taste. You can make a vinaigrette with some or all of these ingredients in the blender, food processor, or just in a little bowl with a whisk, pour it on the fish before or after cooking, or both. If you want to get a little fancier, add a chopped fresh herb and/or dollop of Dijon mustard to your “sauce.” Or, try one of the recipe ideas below. If you don’t have one of the ingredients listed (i.e. one of the suggested fresh herbs), just leave it out. It’ll still taste good.
Roasted Salmon with Herb Chimichurri (shown in picture above)
Preheat oven to 425. Line a baking sheet with foil and spray with nonstick cooking spray. Place a wild salmon filet (~2 lbs), skin-side down, on the foil and sprinkle with salt & pepper. In a blender, mix 1/4 cup lemon juice, 1/4 cup Dijon mustard, and 1/4 cup olive oil. When smooth, add a handful of fresh parsley OR dill OR oregano, 2 green onions cut into pieces, and 2 Tbsp capers. Pulse a few times to so these ingredients are chopped but not pureed.
Pour Chimichurri sauce (you’ll probably have extra) over raw salmon and spread around with your fingers or a spatula. Bake on the top oven rack for 15-20 minutes or until fish easily flakes with a fork and meat is slightly opaque (not bright red anymore). Save extra sauce (as long as it didn’t touch the raw fish) in the fridge for another time–you can use it with any type of fish, or mix it with some red wine vinegar and a little more oil to make a vinaigrette for salad.
Prosciutto-Wrapped White Fish
Preheat oven to 400. Line a baking sheet with foil and spray with nonstick cooking spray. Take 4 white fish filets, skin off (Pacific halibut, cod, U.S.-grown tilapia, any other white fish you like)-about 6 oz each), sprinkle lightly with salt & pepper, lay on each one a sprig of fresh thyme, oregano, or rosemary, then wrap each one with a thin piece of prosciutto, making sure that the “seem” side is down. Drizzle with extra virgin olive oil. Bake for 15-20 minutes, or until fish is opaque and flakes easily with a fork. Squeeze a little lemon on each one and serve.
Canned Salmon Salad
Drain a can of boneless wild Alaskan salmon. Mix with a generous dollop each of Light mayo and plain yogurt, then add chopped celery, green onion, fresh parsley, and a big squeeze of lemon juice. Serve as you would tuna salad: in a sandwich with lettuce and tomato, on a bed of greens, or on crackers.
Greek Salad with Sardines
Toss a mixture of chopped cucumbers, tomatoes, bell peppers, red onion, kalamata olives, and feta cheese with lemon juice, olive oil, salt & pepper. Spread out on a platter and top with canned sardines (either canned in water or olive oil is fine). Here’s a similar salad recipe from Eating Well magazine.
That should get you started. If you’re hungry for more info, here are some helpful online resources:
The Best and Worst Seafood Choices, from Eating Well Magazine
More about Mercury & Contaminants in fish, from the Environmental Defense Fund
Health Benefits of Fish, with other info, from Australia’s government website
Want to see more recipes? Check these out.