SEASON TO TASTE(my monthly food column for Heartland Women)
I am a certified fish and seafood lover! OK, there are a lot of sea creatures I probably would not eat, but they’re a lot of them I would – and do, as often as possible.
When I decided to write about fish and seafood this month, it seemed like a natural choice for my yearlong series about healthy food. However, there is so much contradictory information swimming around out there, I wasn’t so sure I wanted to open that can of worms.
While one source admonishes us to eat more fish, others warn about unsafe levels of mercury and toxins in seafood. Then there is the whole matter of where the fish comes from and how it is raised. Some farmed fish is good, and some is not. Some countries use fishing methods that endanger the habitats of other sea creatures. Other countries have developed safe fishing industry guidelines and advocate global responsibility for protecting the oceans.
My first step was to find sources of good information about safe and sustainable seafood. All of these sites present a clear explanation of the facts about the fishing industry, sustainable fishing procedures and the safest choices for eating healthy seafood. I’ve even added Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch application to my iPhone, so I have it with me when I shop.
Print out one of the handy guides from these sites. They contain up-to-the-minute information about the safest seafood available and the countries using sustainable fishing practices. It’s the easiest way to know what you’re eating and making sure your seafood is truly a healthy choice.
Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch - http://www.montereybayaquarium.org/ - Print the wallet-size guide to safe fish and not-so-safe fish customized by region of the country. There is also an iPhone app to download for information at your fingertips.
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
Fish Watch - http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/fishwatch/
This site is a wealth of information about all things fish and seafood.
Environmental Defense Fund Seafood Selector – http://www.edf.org/ - Seafood guide for sushi lovers.
Washington State Department of Health Fish Facts for Healthy Nutrition - http://www.doh.wa.gov/ehp/oehas/fish/ - Another handy wallet-size guide with current information.
Pop The Fisherman at Prairie Wood
As a native small-town Midwesterner, my earliest tastes of seafood were not from the sea at all. My dad loves to fish; and as long as he would bait the hook and remove anything I caught from it, I was right there with him. I know we sometimes fried the lake fish we caught; and I’m fairly certain I ate it, although I don’t remember loving it. Let’s just say, with the exception of catfish, which I really do like, even now most fresh water fish falls into my “take it or leave it” file.
Just so you know, though, I’m not a fish snob. I do have fond memories of fish sticks, tuna sandwiches, tuna casserole and even some Mrs. Paul’s fish cakes and shrimp cakes we ate on buns like burgers. And I still crave a McDonald’s Filet-O-Fish every now and then, even though it runs contrary to my normal distaste for any sort of cheese and seafood combination. What can I say? It must be a comfort food thing.
Landlocked though we may have been, seafood of a more exotic nature also made its way into our diet every now and then. Occasionally, my dad would treat us to things like smoked oysters from a tin and pickled herring from a jar, both of which we ate on toothpicks thinking we were very sophisticated. I am still shocked that I would eat either of them – toothpick or not! My mother gets credit for getting me hooked on the ubiquitous clam dip of the 1960’s and later clam chowder, all made possible in the Heartland by more seafood in a can.
My taste for fish and seafood may have begun at home, but over time, it grew to include many more wonderful species and preparations, once I really got out into the world of fresh seafood. These are my Top 15 Memorable Seafood Meals – in no particular order – out of more than 50 that came to mind! I guess fish truly is brain food if I can remember so many outstanding meals!
Fried Clam Strips at Howard Johnson’s – love at first bite.
Baked Haddock at Miss Hulling’s Cafeteria in St. Louis, just before seeing Dr. Zhivago at the Fox Theater.
Fried Soft Shell Crab on a bun, somewhere at the Maryland shore.
Steamed Crabs on butcher paper, somewhere else at the Maryland shore – a real feast!
Alaskan King Crab Legs, flown in from Eielson AFB in Fairbanks, AK by My Favorite Husband. We shared all 10 lbs. with a table full of friends.
Fried Flounder at Hieronymus Seafood in Wilmington, NC, which was so good we actually ordered a second round.
Fried Catfish at a fish camp near Tupelo, MS – best ever, melt-in-your-mouth good.
Whole Maine Lobsters for 50 close friends at my 40th birthday weekend in Moultonborough, NH.
Fresh Clam Roll at the Dairy Maid, Center Harbor, NH – the whole clam, which is way better than clam strips.
Perfectly Seared Scallops at Le Bernardin in New York – the perfect beginning for a fabulous week of eating my way through New York City’s finest restaurants with my friend Anna.
Wild White Salmon with Raspberry Sauce at McCormick and Schmick’s in Seattle – on our way to Alaska, where we ate outrageous amounts of all the yummy salmon we could get our hands on.
Fresh Oysters In The Shell, roasted over an open fire on a chilly evening in North Carolina – absolutely the best way to enjoy oysters.
Stone Crab Claws at Joe’s Stone Crab in Miami Beach – a mouthful of succulent crab in every claw.
Steamed Mussels in a Saffron Broth at The Girl and The Fig in Sonoma, CA – mussels, savory broth and crusty bread are a match made in heaven.
Fritto Misto Calamari at Bistro Don Giovanni in Napa Valley, CA – all fried seafood should be this perfect, crispy and light.
Just to make sure I was not alone in what appeared to be my personal obsession with seafood, I polled some friends. They all agreed fish is definitely a healthy choice, in spite of some concerns about pollution and unsafe farming practices for some species. Most said they eat seafood regularly, from once or twice a month to two or three times a week. My niece, Megan, said she eats fish “three times a month, unless we are in Florida, in which case, it is about eleven times a week!” After years of existing on macaroni and cheese, she is now a seafood lover and a sushi aficionado.
Several people said they choose seafood dishes frequently when eating out, but not everyone is comfortable with preparing it at home. My friend Denise, who writes the blog Eat Laugh Love (http://evans-eatlaughlove.blogspot.com/) pointed out, though, that fish was one of her “easy” weeknight meals to make at home. I agree that a nice piece of fish, lightly seasoned and grilled, is my idea of a good fast food.
And what were their favorite seafood dishes? Without a doubt, the number one choice was salmon, followed closely by flounder, grouper, tuna, mahi mahi and tilapia. Grilling seemed to be the most popular method of preparation, but fried catfish and fish and chips were in there, too. Crab was the number one shellfish, followed by shrimp. And we can’t forget sushi!
I have some recipes from my seafood-loving friends for you to try this month. Feel free to substitute your favorite fish, just as long as it has a similar texture to the fish mentioned.
If you are making an effort to eat healthy, nothing beats fish for fast, easy, low calorie, nutrient rich and delicious meals. Be sure to print out one of the seafood guides; take it to the market with you. Then check the labels for country of origin, which will be printed on every package. Make sure all the seafood you choose is from a sustainable species and source, so you are certain that you are truly making a healthy choice. Now head out to the kitchen or haul out the grill and get hooked on seafood!
Harper’s Awesome Salmon
This recipe is from Harper, a classmate of my son’s, who now teaches English in Charlotte, NC. She got the recipe from her friend Kristen. Harper loves making this for her boyfriend, and I love knowing that their generation is actually cooking and eating good, healthy food! I served this salmon to My Favorite Husband and he gave it two thumbs up!
2 tbsp. melted butter
3 tbsp. Dijon mustard
1 1/2 tsp. honey
1/4 cup breadcrumbs (I used Panko)
1 tsp. parsley
2-4 salmon fillets
1. Combine first three ingredients and set aside.
2. Mix next two ingredients.
3. Coat fillets with honey mustard mixture.
4. Sprinkle with breadcrumb mixture.
5. Bake at 400 for 20 minutes.
Asian Trout Bundles
My friend, Denise from Eat Laugh Love, says this trout recipe is on her weeknight dinner rotation; and it's one of her husband's favorite meals.
4 green onions, cut into thin diagonal slices
1 large sweet red pepper, cored, seeded, julienne cut
2 tbsp. soy sauce
2 tbsp. red-wine vinegar
2 tsp. dark Asian sesame oil
2 tsp. grated fresh ginger or 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1 tbsp. sugar
1/4 cup light soy
4 trout fillets, about 6 ounces each
4 tsp. sesame seeds
Combine the first 8 ingredients and put in large Ziploc bag with the trout. Marinate in the refrigerator for two hours (I’ve done as little as 30 minutes). Reserve marinade.
Heat oven to 425 degrees. Tear off four 14 x 12-in. sheets of aluminum foil. Arrange each fillet on a piece of foil. Spoon reserved marinade over top of each fillet, dividing equally. Sprinkle each fillet with 1 tsp. sesame seeds. Fold top of foil over fish. Fold edges of foil over twice; crimp to seal tightly. Arrange packets on a baking sheet. Bake in heated 425 degree oven 10-12 minutes or until foil is puffed and fish is cooked through.
Denise serves Asian Trout Bundles with East-West Coleslaw and grilled or roasted sweet potatoes.
Denise says this picnic favorite comes from Los Angeles-based food writer, Karen Gillingham. Since Denise’s son, Connor, dislikes any kind of “coleslaw,” they simply refer to this as “Asian Salad” and he really likes it!
1/2 cup rice vinegar
1/3 cup granulated sugar
2 shallots, minced
1 tbsp. minced fresh ginger root
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 jalapeno peppers, seeded and minced
1/2 cup minced cilantro leaves
1 small head Napa cabbage, cored and shredded
1 cup grated carrot
In a small saucepan, heat and stir the vinegar and sugar over medium heat until the sugar dissolves. Remove from the heat and set aside to cool. Stir in the shallots, gingerroot, garlic, jalapenos and cilantro. Set aside. In a large bowl, toss the cabbage with the carrots. One hour before serving, add the dressing and toss to combine. I make it ahead of time and let it sit for an hour or so before serving. Makes 6 servings.
Another recipe from Denise, which she says is an easy, impressive, company-worthy entrée. Don’t be intimated by the long list of ingredients. This comes together very easily and is really delicious.
4 large garlic cloves, minced
2 medium onions, finely chopped
1 cup celery, chopped
1 bay leaf
1 tbsp. oregano, crumbled
1 tsp. dried rosemary
1 tbsp. dried thyme
1 tsp. dried hot red pepper flakes
1 1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
2 tbsp. olive oil
1 red bell pepper, cut into 1/4-in. dice
1 large bulb fennel, cut into 1/4-in. dice
2 tbsp. tomato paste
1 1/2 cups dry white wine
2 15-oz. cans fire-roasted diced tomatoes
1 6-oz. bottle clam juice
2 cups tomato or marinara sauce
16 hard-shelled clams (about 1 1/2 lbs.) such as littlenecks, scrubbed
16 mussels, scrubbed
3/4 lb. skinless halibut fillets, cut into 1 1/2-in. pieces
1/2 lb. large shrimp, shelled (tails and bottom segment of shells left intact) and deveined
3/4 lb. sea scallops, tough muscle removed from side of each
1 lb. crabmeat
1/4 cup finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
Cook garlic, onions, celery, bay leaf, herbs, and red pepper flakes with salt and pepper in oil in an 8-quart heavy pot over moderate heat, stirring until vegetables are softened, about 5 minutes. Stir in bell pepper, fennel, and tomato paste and cook, stirring 1 minute. Add wine and boil until reduced by about half, 5 to 6 minutes. Add tomatoes with their juice and clam juice and simmer, covered, 30 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. This can be made 1 day ahead. Cool, uncovered, then chill, covered. Bring to a simmer before adding seafood. Add clams to stew and simmer, covered, until clams open, about 10 minutes, checking every minute after 5 minutes and transferring opened clams to a bowl with tongs or a slotted spoon. Discard any unopened clams after 10 minutes. Add mussels and remaining seafood and fish to stew and simmer, covered, until mussels open and the fish is just cooked through, about 5 minutes. Discard bay leaf then return clams to pot and gently stir in parsley. Serve Cioppino immediately in large soup bowls with crusty bread.
Mary’s Favorite Baked Fish
My friend, Mary, shares this recipe that she says is easy and her whole family likes it. Another easy weeknight meal!
2 lbs. firm white fish (halibut, tilapia)
½ cup Caesar salad dressing
1 cup crushed potato chips
½ cup shredded cheddar cheese
½ tsp. black pepper
Dip fish pieces in dressing and place in greased baking dish. Combine potato chips, cheese and black pepper. Sprinkle over fish. Bake at 375 degrees for 20 to 25 minutes.
Linguine with Clam Sauce
(from Cooking Light)
Nancy says she has been making this recipe for quite some time and often substitutes shrimp for clams.
6 oz. uncooked linguine
2 (6.5 oz.) cans minced clams, rinsed and drained
1/2 lb. fresh mushrooms, sliced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tbsp. margarine, melted
1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley
1/4 cup dry white wine
1/8 tsp. salt
3/4 tsp. pepper
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
Cook linguine according to package directions, drain, and set aside; keep warm. Rinse and drain clams. Sauté mushrooms and garlic in margarine in a large skillet until tender. Stir in clams, parsley, wine, salt, and pepper; simmer, uncovered, until thoroughly heated. Combine linguine, clam sauce, and Parmesan cheese; toss well. (Optional – substitute shrimp for clams.)