January 28, 2013

February is Heart Health Month

By Dawn Blockinger, R.D., L.D.N.
Hy-Vee Registered Dietician, Moline, IL Hy-Vee store
E-Mail: dblocklinger@hy-vee.com

A Reminder of the Benefits of Fish and Shellfish

With Heart Health Month upon us, we are reminded to eat foods that benefit the heart and our overall health. These recommendations include consuming fish regularly. Eating more fish and shellfish year-round; why?

• Eating two to three servings of fish per week can offer big health
benefits, such as maintaining brain health and reducing heart disease by 30 percent.
• Fish contains healthy nutrients, such as omega-3 fatty acids, iron and B-vitamins, and doesn’t have the saturated fat as the same serving of other protein foods.

Here’s more good news—when it comes to cooking fish or shellfish; anybody can do it! The key to whipping up 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 fish and seafood 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 wide variety and you’ll soon discover the flavors and textures you enjoy.

If you are dealing with “picky eaters,” try incorporating fish or shellfish into recipes that are familiar—such as tacos, burgers, quesadillas or pasta dishes. The familiarity of those foods may make it easier for fish “newbies” to try, and enjoy, eating fish or shellfish.

Also, be sure to choose fresh fish. Your fish should not smell “fishy” or ammonia-like. Fresh fish or shellfish should smell like mild saltwater 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 for 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. This leaves many of us are searching for more family-friendly fish and seafood options.

As mentioned, the flavor varies among the type of fish or shellfish. Here are a few options that are popular among consumers, great for “newbies” and provide a nice variety.

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.