Fish and Shellfish 101
With the Lenten season, many of us are searching for more seafood options. We should be eating more fish and shellfish year-round; why?
Eating two to three servings of seafood per week can offer big health benefits, such as maintaining brain health and reducing heart disease by 30 percent.
Seafood contains healthy nutrients, such as omega-3 fatty acids, iron and B-vitamins, and it doesn’t have all the saturated fat as the same serving of other protein foods.
Eating seafood while you are pregnant/breastfeeding promotes proper brain and eyesight health in developing babies.
Here’s more good news—there is no need to be hesitant when it comes to cooking fish or shellfish; anybody can do it! The key to a spectacular fish-based dish that satisfies the entire family is to make the right selections: the right types of fish or shellfish, the right cooking methods, and the right recipes.
If you think you don’t like fish or seafood, remember that the flavor of these foods is considered to be the most variable among our basic foods. Freshwater or saltwater fish, mollusks and crustaceans each have completely different flavors and textures—“fishy” does not describe the majority of fish or shellfish. Explore the sea and you’ll soon see the deliciousness it has to offer!
If you are dealing with “picky eaters,” try incorporating fish or shellfish into recipes that are familiar—such as tacos, pizza, quesadillas, burgers or quesadillas. The familiarity of those foods may make it easier to try (and enjoy) eating fish or shellfish. Also, be sure to choose fresh fish. Your fish should not strongly smell “fishy”; if it does, don’t buy it. Fresh fish or shellfish should smell like saltwater and the sea coast or have a faint, not strong, fish odor.
Fish and seafood cook differently than meat; they are more delicate and cook at a faster rate. The best tool that any chef or home cook has in cooking fish is an instant-read thermometer because fish can quickly go from being undone to overdone in a matter of minutes. Periodically check the temperature with a thermometer so you know when the final cooking point is nearing. Fish should be cooked to 145°F, or until flesh is opaque and flakes with a fork.
As mentioned, the flavor varies among the type of fish or shellfish. Here are a few options that are popular among consumers:
Flavor: Tilapia is somewhat sweet but really quite mild in flavor. It has a flaky texture and is considered a lean fish. It is usually paired with stronger-tasting spices and herbs because it is so mild.
Cooking: Although quite popular, tilapia is lean and fillets are thin so it can be a somewhat easy to overcook, compared to other “thicker” cuts of fish. However, with a close eye (and a thermometer) it can be grilled, broiled or baked with great results!
Flavor: This type of shellfish has a nutty, popcorn-like, sweet-savory flavor. It should not be “rubbery” in texture; if it is, it’s overcooked. Shrimp are versatile in recipes—they go well in everything from Italian pastas, Asian stir-fries and Southern barbeque to Mexican fajitas. Kids love them because they are fun to eat!
Cooking: Because shellfish contain more collagen than fish, it is less delicate and easily broken down by heat. For the cook, this means shellfish are less likely to be dried out and overcooked. Nonetheless, shrimp still cook very quickly so keep a close eye on them. Heat them rapidly (such as by broiling) to quickly sear in the flavor and caramelize the edges. The flesh will turn pink and opaque and shrimp will slightly curl up when cooked (overcooked shrimp will be totally curled up, forming a tight ‘O’ shape, rather than a ‘C’ shape) .
Flavor: Wild or farmed salmon each have different flavors but in general, both are meaty, succulent and savory. Salmon is also quite versatile and lends itself well to most flavors, including Asian, Mediterranean, Southern and Cajun.
Cooking: Salmon can be baked, grilled, broiled roasted or poached. Because of the high fat content (of beneficial omega-3 fatty acids), salmon will take longer to cook than a similarly sized piece of leaner fish (fat transfers heat more slowly). The best, foolproof method is to insert salmon in a hot (500°F) oven to give it a blast of heat and then immediately lower the temp (to 275°F) and let it gently cook for 15 minutes.
Active time: 15 minutes
Total: 15 minutes
1 pound tilapia fillets
1 teaspoon Chinese five-spice powder (see tip)
1/4 cup reduced-sodium soy sauce
3 tablespoons Hy-Vee light brown sugar
1 tablespoon Hy-Vee canola oil
3 scallions, thinly sliced
1. Sprinkle both sides of tilapia fillets with five-spice powder. Combine soy sauce and brown sugar in a small bowl.
2. Heat oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add the tilapia and cook until the outer edges are opaque, about 2 minutes. Reduce heat to medium, turn the fish over, stir the soy mixture and pour into the pan. Bring the sauce to a boil and cook until the fish is cooked through and the sauce has thickened slightly, about 2 minutes more. Add scallions and remove from the heat. Serve the fish drizzled with the pan sauce.
Per serving: 180 calories; 6 g fat (1 g sat, 3 g mono); 57 mg cholesterol; 9 g carbohydrate; 9 g added sugars; 24 g protein; 0 g fiber; 596 mg sodium; 411 mg potassium. Carbohydrate Servings: 1
TIP: Five-spice powder is a blend of cinnamon, cloves, fennel seed, star anise and Szechuan peppercorns. Look for it in the spice section or with other Asian ingredients.