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Saturday, March 1, 2014

Getting More Fish into Your Diet






You've seen all the healthy eating suggestions that encourage getting more fish into our diets, but you really can't face another tuna casserole or tuna salad sandwich? You look at the price of fresh seafood and are sure your budget will never be able to handle these meals regularly--even if the kids would even eat them? Or you only think of fish as something that either adds lots of fat and breading--think fish sticks, etc.--or is just way too time consuming to prepare?

Well, here's an idea that you may not have thought of: use your microwave. With this approach, you can have a healthy meal on the table in the length of time it takes to cook some rice or make a salad, since the fish main dish will require minimal preparation or cooking time.

If you are unsure what kind of fish to buy, consider the lighter, milder kinds like tilapia, cod, etc. As your family becomes more "comfortable" with fish, you can branch out to stronger flavored kinds like catfish.  Salmon and trout are always wonderful of course, but they are often pretty pricey. 

What about fresh vs. frozen? For the busy, thrifty, cook and for most of us at a distance from major fishing markets, frozen is almost always going to be the best option. Look for larger packages that have individually frozen filets so you can pull out enough for your family in the morning, tuck these in the refrigerator, and they will be thawed to just the right level for preparing a quick dinner when you get home.

Now that we are entering the Lenten season, many stores will be featuring seafood specials, so you might be able to find many kinds of fish at some really good prices. Start out with one of these basic recipes and then begin to branch out on your own. There are really only two critical things to keep in mind:
  • Cover the fish tightly. I like to use a casserole dish with its own cover, but you can also use plastic wrap (don't let it touch the food!) or a pretty tight microwave cover. 
  • Because every fish filet is going to be slightly different in thickness and shape and because different kinds of fish have different cooking times, you should plan to test the fish every minute after the first minute or two. How?
    • The key to fish "doneness" is when it "flakes" with a fork. If you have always wondered what this means, just insert a fork into the thickest part of the filet and twist gently. If it is well cooked, the fish will pull apart slightly, just like when you put a fork into canned tuna.
Here are two possibilities for you to try. These can easily be scaled up or down, for 1 to 4 servings, with the time in the microwave adjusted accordingly.

 

Microwaved Fish Florentine


2 tilapia or other white fish filets, 3 to 4 oz each
1/3 c coarsely chopped onion (for added color, red onions may be used)
8 to 10 frozen, chopped spinach or kale--do not thaw
seasoning--marjoram, thyme, and dill are often favored, but choose whatever your family likes best
a sprinkle of salt--seasoning salt can add a dash of color to the dish, as seen in the photo at the top of this post

1.  Spread the spinach or kale in the bottom of a lightly oiled baking dish. Top with the onions, and then lay the filets across the top. Try to place the thickest parts of the filets near the outer edges. Sprinkle with your choice of seasoning and cover the dish well.
2.  Microwave on high for 3 to 5 minutes, checking for doneness after 2 minutes. If the centers of the filets are cooking slower than the thinner outer edges, rearrange as necessary.
3.  Serve immediately. May be topped with a bit of Ranch or other dressing if desired. You may also wish to serve this with Fresh Tomato Salad.

Serves 2.

Variation: If your family prefers, you can first saute the onions on the stove top in a little olive oil. If these are put into the baking dish while still hot, this will shorten the cooking time a bit.

Fresh Tomato Salad

1/3 large onion--about 3/4 c
2 to 3 tomatoes--about 2 c
1/2 cucumber
1/2 bell pepper, any color
1/2 t dried basil
1/2 t dried rosemary
salt to taste
2 t cider or wine vinegar
1 t sugar (optional)

1. Chop all the vegetables coarsely--may use a processor to do this all at once.
2. Stir in the seasonings and taste. Add sugar, if needed, and vinegar.
3. Set aside for at 15 to 20 minutes to allow flavors to blend. This may also be made ahead and refrigerated, but it will taste best if allowed to come to room temperature before serving.

Fish and Vegetables Au Gratin


1 sweet onion, cut in rings
1/4 to 1/2 red bell pepper, cut in large dice
8 oz fish filets
1 to 2 T prepared zesty salad dressing of choice
10 to 12 oz frozen vegetables--French cut green beans, broccoli, cauliflower, or a mixture
1/2 t Italian seasoning or other dried herbs of choice
1 c grated cheddar cheese
OR 1/2 c grated cheddar cheese and 2 slices American cheese
1/2 c toasted bread crumbs

1. Spread the onion rings and diced pepper evenly in the bottom of an oiled casserole dish. Lay the filets over the top and drizzle with the salad dressing. Cover tightly and microwave about 2 minutes.
2.  Spread the frozen vegetables over the fish and sprinkle with the Italian seasoning. Cover and return to the microwave for about 5 minutes, until the fish flakes and the vegetables are piping hot.
3.  Top with the grated cheddar cheese. If the American cheese is being used, lay these over the top. Finish with a thin layer of the bread crumbs. Return, uncovered, to the microwave for another minute or just until the cheese has melted.

Serves two to three.


Two More Things--Sustainable Seafood and Tilapia "Warnings"

As with so many of our food choices, there are lots of articles on the internet with warnings and concerns about fish. One of these relates to the varieties of fish to choose, both for our own health and for the global fish supplies. A reputable site with lots of information is seafoodwatch.org. They have a set of regional downloadable guides that you might want to print and carry with you when at the store. The national guide can be found at:

http://www.seafoodwatch.org/cr/cr_seafoodwatch/content/media/MBA_SeafoodWatch_NationalGuide.pdf

About tilapia: A few years ago a study was published that raised concerns about the levels of omega 3 and omega 6 fats in tilapia. As with so many of these kinds of things, the findings have been pulled out of context, magnified, and turned into dire warnings. Seafood Watch generally gives tilapia excellent ratings, and you can find a nice summary of the best science on this currently at http://www.snopes.com/food/warnings/tilapia.asp

Okay, One More Thing!


...about that fishy smell in the house:  If this is an issue for anyone in your household, the microwave minimizes this odors in the kitchen but can retain some of the aroma in the microwave itself. There is an easy cure however. Just put a cup of water with perhaps a tablespoon or two of lemon juice (use ReaLemon or a similar brand) into the microwave and heat to boiling.

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