When a longtime friend called to say her sunny breezy cottage in Cape May NJ was vacant for a few days, it didn't take me long to toss flip flops, sunscreen and a wide-brimmed hat in the car and head down the back roads of the pinelands to this charming Victorian community by the sea.
Seasonal foodie that I am, my thoughts began drifting towards the variety of fresh shellfish and fin fish that would be waiting at the local dockside seafood market. Seafood, which includes shellfish and fin fish, is an excellent source of protein and omega-3 fatty acids, but, like a surfside clammer at low tide, I wanted to dig deeper.
When compared to red meats and poultry, did you know that the protein found in fish has less connective tissue and shorter muscle fiber? It helps explain why fish is relatively easy to digest when simply prepared--think olive oil and citrus juice, not cream-sauced or deep-fat fried, and why it flakes when properly cooked. Cook fin fish to an internal temperature of 145°F at the thickest part of the fish, or "until flesh is opaque and separates easily with a fork."
Seafood is a rich source for omega-3 fatty acids, and amounts vary depending upon the type of fin fish or shellfish. Scientific research points to the role omega-3 fatty acids may have in fighting heart disease: "Researchers have found that omega-3 fatty acids can make blood less likely to clot and block blood vessels, and that consuming omega-3s may also decrease levels of some blood fats and possibly cholesterol."
Seafood Health Facts suggests: "To get a general idea of the fat content of most fish species, look at the color of the flesh. The leanest species such as cod and flounder have a white or lighter color, and fattier fish such as salmon, herring, and mackerel usually have a much darker color. The fat content of fish and shellfish can vary depending on when and where they are caught and other factors."
Be selective when buying fresh seafood. At the market or store, fin fish and shellfish should be displayed on a generous amount of clean ice. Whole fish should have clear eyes and no fishy odor. Ask to have your catch wrapped and placed on top of ice to transport home.
Seafood is best prepared and eaten the same day it's purchased. In the kitchen whether on the stove or in the oven, keep things simple with olive oil, fresh lemon or lime juice and a few snips of fresh herbs from the garden such as dill, parsley, fennel, thyme or basil.
And another important reason to include fin fish and shellfish back in your weekly meals: it's delicious! Many seafood recipes can be prepared in a short amount of time and remain budget-friendly. Here are a few ideas for lunch or dinner to bring a taste of the beach or shore to your table this summer.
Tasty Fish and Veggie Packets
Prep time:15 minutes
Cook time:12 minutes
Makes: 4 servings
4 cod fillets (4 ounces each, can also use tilapia, sole, hake, flounder, or other white fish)
1⁄4 red onion (or scallions)
1 red pepper
1 celery stalk
1 small zucchini, sliced (optional)
2 plum tomatoes (optional)
1 clove garlic
2 tablespoons parsley (chopped)
thyme (fresh springs, optional)
basil (chopped, optional)
2 teaspoons olive oil
4 teaspoons lemon juice
salt and pepper (to taste, optional)
1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
2. Cut four large rectangles of parchment paper or aluminum foil and fold in half; unfold.
3. Put each fish fillet in a large square of parchment paper and season with salt and pepper.
4. Top fish with your choice of vegetables and seasonings.
5. Drizzle each packet with ½ teaspoon oil and 1 teaspoon lemon juice.
6. Fold the parchment paper or foil in half and then crimp around the edges tightly in 1/4-inch folds to create a half moon shape.
7. Using a spatula, transfer the packets to a baking sheet. Bake until the fish is cooked to an internal temperature of 145 degrees F, about 10-12 minutes, depending the thickness of the fish.
Source: Food and Nutrition Information Center
Easy Oven-Fried Fish Sticks
1 1/4 pounds cod fillets
1 egg white
1 tablespoon prepared mustard (optional)
1 tablespoon water
1/2 cup bread crumbs
1 tablespoon dry mustard
1/8 teaspoon ground white pepper
Cut cod fillets into equal "sticks." In a shallow bowl, whisk together egg white, prepared mustard, and water with a fork until thoroughly blended. In another shallow bowl, mix together bread crumbs, dry mustard, and pepper. Coat a baking sheet with vegetable cooking spray. Dip fish sticks into egg white/mustard mixture and coat on all sides, then dredge in seasoned bread crumbs, coating evenly. Place on prepared baking sheet and bake in a 450 degrees Fahrenheit oven for 6 minutes. Turn sticks over and continue baking for 4 minutes. Remove sticks to a serving platter. Quickly sprinkle cheddar over tops of fish sticks and serve immediately, with lemon wedge, if desired.
Recipe credit: Mariner's Menu: 30 Years of Fresh Seafood Ideas by Joyce Taylor, 2003, North Carolina Sea Grant. Recipe from Delaware Sea Grant
Manhattan Clam Chowder
Makes: 9 servings
Try this hearty chowder full of carrots, tomatoes, potatoes, and clams that can be easily made in a slow cooker.
3 celery (stalks, medium - washed & sliced)
1 onion (large, chopped)
1⁄2 cup tomato puree (low sodium)
1 1⁄2 cups potatoes (sliced)
1 1⁄2 cups carrot (washed and sliced)
2 cans clams (6 1/2 ounces each, chopped, drained)
1 1⁄2 teaspoons thyme (dried)
1 bay leaf
2 dashes black peppercorns
1 1⁄2 cups water
2 cups tomato juice (low sodium )
1 tablespoon parsley flakes (dried)
1. Scrub potatoes well to remove any eyes or blemishes.
2. In a slow cooker, combine all ingredients; stir.
3. Cover and cook on low for 8-10 hours or until the vegetables are tender.
4. Remove bay leaf and peppercorns before serving.
Source: USDA What's Cooking? USDA Mixing Bowl
To learn more about the 2017 recommendations on seafood consumption for all ages, refer to the guidelines from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.