How to Choose and Cook the Healthiest Fish
I had the pleasure of cooking with one of my good friends recently, actress Suzanne Somers. We had a blast talking about the health benefits of fish, olive oils, herbs and spices, and we were able to capture our cooking moments and tips on video for you. I watched the video a few days after the segment, and I noticed that Suzanne referred to me as “the culinary cardiologist,” which of course was an honor. But what really was most exciting to me is how much fun we were having together…It reminded me of how fun and healthy cooking really is!
As most of you – my readers – know, I’m an integrative cardiologist and I focus on heart and whole-body health. But what you might not know is, I’m extremely passionate about healthy cooking and the foods I put into my own body, as well as what I recommend to others. It’s one of the many reasons that I’ve launched my own high vibrational food line and I founded an anti-inflammatory diet– the PAMM Diet.
One of the healthiest, anti-inflammatory proteins we can get is fish. Let’s talk about some key things you should be looking at when shopping for fish, and one main question you should be asking– where did this fish come from? Chances are you might be eating farmed fish more often than not, and this can be harming your heart and overall health.
What is Farmed Fish?
Fish farming, which is also called pisciculture, means the fish are raised in tanks or enclosed areas like fish ponds.
Let me get straight to the point – you are what you eat. Farmed fish are often fed GMO corn or soy, which may be the reason they have less protein, less omega-3s and more omega-6 fatty acids than wild-caught fish. This means that they are more likely to cause inflammation, instead of decreasing it. Farmed fish are often given antibiotics to help them survive their crowded conditions, and “treated” with pesticides – not good things, to say the least. Much higher levels of other toxic chemicals (like flame retardants) have also been found in farm-raised seafood than in wild caught varieties, all which can also damage local ecosystems in addition to your body. This list can go on, but know this – your diet should not include farmed fish.
So what now? Let’s talk about wild-caught fish– I’m an advocate of wild caught fish because it is the only kind of fish I will eat. Wild-caught fish come from seas, rivers and other natural bodies of water. They are rich with anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids, are great sources of protein, and are free of GMOs and antibiotics. Know this too – just because a fish is marked “fresh,” it’s not necessarily fresh, let alone wild-caught. The “fresh” fish at your market may very well be farmed, so make sure you read the label or ask if it is farmed or wild-caught.
The Best Fish to Eat
First, I recommend that you aim for two or three servings of wild-caught fish per week. Ultimately, for my PAMM Diet, wild-caught, migratory, cold-water fatty fish, such as Atlantic varieties of salmon, scrod, cod and halibut are your safest bets, and they are great sources of heart-healthy, anti-inflammatory, brain and mood-boosting omega-3 fatty acids. Salmon also is a terrific source of Coenzyme Q10, one of my all-time favorite nutrients for health!
The Hunt for the Best Fish
The most rewarding fish is the one I caught and filleted myself. I love to stand and cast my line in the ocean surf in my native Long Island, New York. When I can’t do that, I prefer to buy fresh fish from local fishmongers. If you don’t happen to have a local fish supplier in your area, try your local grocer.
Color and scent are key for any fish. If buying from the grocery store, I always give the fish a sniff test. Fresh fish smells like seawater… it’s mild and almost sweet – if the fish gives off a fishy odor it is way past its peak – I’d pass on it.
How to Cook Salmon and Other Healthy Fish
Ok, now let’s get cooking- here are a few basic tips:
Flavor to Savor: a little salt, pepper, and even garlic make great flavor additions to most fish. I use EVOO to marinate my fish, and crushed flavored olive oils as a finishing touch – Lemon, basil, oregano and rosemary and are my favorites. Sometimes I go for more gusto with garlic, garlic jalapeño, or jalapeño, and when I want some serious heat, I use habanero flavored olive oil.
The Perfect Temperature: 145 degrees (Fahrenheit) is a safe internal temp for fish. You can use an insta-read thermometer just to be sure.
My favorite fish is wild-caught salmon, and it’s one of the easiest fish to cook. One of the great things about salmon is that it doesn’t need to be fully cooked – you can serve it medium or medium-rare. But my tips below will work with most any fish, give or take a few minutes of cooking time.
Poaching/Steaming: My favorite way to prepare fish is to poach/steam it. By mildly poaching, the fish stays incredibly moist and it’s hard to overcook it. There’re two ways to poach: cold or steam poaching. Cold poaching means you add your fish to the pan while the water is cold, then gently simmer to your desired doneness. With steam poaching, you add fish to simmering water and cook over medium heat for about 10 minutes. Poach until the center of the fish seems opaque and will flake easily when you open it up with a fork. The less water you use with each method, the more you’re actually “steaming” the fish – just make sure there’s enough in the pan so that the water doesn’t fully evaporate – or you’ll have some kitchen smoke on your hands!
Oven Baking: My second preference is to bake fish. I like using parchment paper to keep all of the flavors in…”fish in a bag,” my kids used to call it. To bake fish, pre-heat your oven to 375 degrees. Place chopped veggies like organic bell peppers, onions and garlic onto the parchment paper, top with the fish, then drizzle with olive oil. Carefully wrap the fish like a gift, and bake for 15-20 minutes, depending on the size and type of fish. You can also bake fish uncovered or covered in a glass pan with a few pats of organic butter underneath and on the fish, fresh herbs, salt, pepper and garlic.
Grilling: I have been enjoying my grill all summer long, I love grilling because it gets me outdoors, taking barefoot chef breaks on my lawn and appreciating the Nature around me. Here’s how to grill fish: you use foil on the grill and gently lay the fish on it. Fire up the grill, then brush both sides of the fish with EVOO, add sprigs of herbs like rosemary, and of course, salt and pepper. I place the fish skin side down and grill on medium heat. Don’t move or flip the fish for the next 2 to 4 minutes, until the skin side gets brown and crisp. Then, try gently lifting it with a spatula; if it doesn’t cleanly lift off grill, continue to cook, and check to see if it’s done every half-minute – when it is, it will come right off the grill. Go double fisted with spatulas (use 2 of them) to flip fish over, then cover the grill and cook the other side for another 3 to 7 minutes – until the center is opaque and reaches 125 degrees on your thermometer. (This technique works best with salmon, but can also be used with any thick, firm-fleshed white fish. Just keep white fish on the grill a little longer – up to 2 minutes per side – until it reaches 140 degrees.)
Pan Frying: I use a stainless steel skillet – it is great for keeping heat in, and won’t leach aluminum like non-stick pans can. If cooking fish with the skin-on, pan-fry until the skin is crispy, not soft. Heat your pan to medium and add 2 Tbsp olive oil, I use EVOO. Place skin side down, cook for 2 minutes, and flip to the other side when the fish turns opaque. It’s time to flip the fish when the skin detaches naturally. Cook another few minutes until you can easily pull it apart with a fork. I always lightly season fish immediately after taking it out of the pan.
PAMM Recipe: Salmon Niçoise Salad – Get it HERE.
Thank you for stopping by, while you are here, I have some more information for you on my favorite superfood: olive oil. A must with any fish you serve!
To our continued heart- and whole – health,
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