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With less in-person dining during the pandemic, fish consumption has taken a dive. That's because more than two-thirds of the seafood we eat has traditionally been purchased at restaurants — whether it's as fish and chips at your neighborhood pub or lobster at your special-occasion go-to.
Preparing seafood ourselves, says Wayne Samiere, CEO and founder of the Honolulu Fish Company, intimidates lots of home cooks: “If you give the average person a few pounds of raw beef or chicken, they'll have some idea of what to do with it. But give them raw fish, and they won't know if it's cod, flounder or tuna.” This phenomenon, he notes, goes back to that fact that American culture has its roots in farming, a 400-year-old practice here. Large-scale commercial fishing in the country, on the other hand, is only around 60 years old.
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Our fish fears are completely unfounded, however. Fish is one of the easiest proteins to prepare; in general, the less you do to a fillet, the better. It defrosts and cooks quickly for a last-minute meal, goes well with lots of different flavors and stands up to a variety of cooking techniques. Plus, it's one of the leanest proteins you can eat, and one of the only sources of omega-3 fatty acids, which have been linked to heart and brain health, among other benefits.
Despite all this, a Food Marketing Institute survey found that only slightly more than half of Americans eat seafood — including things like canned tuna — twice a month. And when we do eat it, we tend to stick to the standbys: Shrimp, salmon and tuna have topped the list of most popular seafood for years.
It's time for a sea change. If you want to ease your way into something new, try any mild, white-fleshed fish: Tilapia, cod, flounder, halibut, barramundi and mahi-mahi are all good choices, and sustainable, too, says Casey Corn, FultonFishMarket.com's culinary ambassador. Fillets will also cook faster than steaks or a whole fish.
Then, follow two simple rules. Rule number one: Get the freshest and highest-quality seafood you can buy. Fresh, high-quality fish should smell of the ocean, with moist flesh. It should never smell bad ("fishy") or look dull. If you're buying whole fish, the eyes should be clear and shiny, not dull or sunken. A reputable fishmonger will be able to guide you if you're not sure. Otherwise, don't overlook the frozen food section; it's common practice for fishing boats to flash-freeze their catch when they're still at sea, so it still tastes great and you can find bargains. Rule number two: Don't overcook it.
Need more guidance? Here are three entry-level fish recipes to get you going.
Fish in Parchment
Cooking fish in parchment gently steams the contents and is a foolproof way to make sure the protein is moist and not overcooked. Plus, cleanup could not be easier. You can add vegetables — thinly sliced squash or zucchini, carrots or green beans — to the packet and have a full meal in 15 minutes.
- Suggested fillets: tilapia, barramundi, flounder, salmon
- 1 lemon, halved
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 2 Tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 1/2 Tablespoon Parmesan cheese
- 4 4-ounce fish fillets
- Kosher salt and black pepper, to taste
- Parsley to garnish (optional)
- Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.
- Juice half of the lemon and thinly slice the other half. Mix the lemon juice with the oil, garlic and cheese.
- Season the fish on both sides with salt and pepper. Place each fillet on a square of parchment and drizzle with the oil mixture. Fold the parchment over each fillet, crimping the edges to seal. Place on a baking sheet in the oven for about 15 minutes.
Who doesn't love tacos? Fish makes them healthier by cutting the fat, and it goes great with fresh flavors like lime and cilantro. These make a great family-friendly meal, but you can also prepare the fish the same way and use it in a salad or wrap.
- Suggested fillets: mahi-mahi, tuna steak, snapper, halibut, cod
- 1 teaspoon smoked paprika
- 1 teaspoon brown sugar
- 1 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1 teaspoon cumin
- 1/2 teaspoon chili powder
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1-2 Tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 pound skinless fish fillets, cut into 2-inch pieces
To serve: corn tortillas, fresh cilantro, sliced red cabbage, avocado, lime wedges
- Combine the spices and coat the fish pieces in the seasoning.
- Heat the oil over medium-high in a 10- or 12-inch skillet and add the fish pieces. Cook until the fish is opaque and the spices have darkened to a crust, about 2-3 minutes per side.
- Divide the fish among warm corn tortillas and add desired toppings.
Slow-Roasted Mediterranean Fish
Hot and fast cooking methods run the risk of overcooking fish, the one thing sure to ruin it. Instead, opt for low, slow heat to retain moisture. This works equally well for fillets or, if you get a little more daring, a whole fish.
- Suggested fillets: barramundi, halibut, salmon
- 2 Tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
- 1 1/4 pound fish fillet
- Kosher salt and black pepper, to taste
- 1 cup cherry tomatoes
- 1/2 red onion, sliced thinly
- 1/2 cup olives, sliced
- 1/2 teaspoon oregano