Thursday, March 26, 2015

Top 10 Reasons to Eat Fish

Now that David Letterman is retiring, more of us will have to provide the world with Top 10 lists - not that we couldn't survive quite well without them. This isn't going to be funny, mostly just factual with an occasional wry grin.

10: Variety - there are dozens of fresh fish choices, all with varying tastes and textures. If you like a steak, ahi tuna is red, comes in steaks, it's great grilled, and should be served very rare. Bonus: it won't clog your arteries. Our most popular fish is salmon, but if you like fish that tastes more mild, choose halibut, whitefish or lake perch - whatever your preference, there's something you'll like.

9. Heart Health - The American Heart Association wants all of their patients to eat fish at least twice a week - because the omega 3s in fish, plus the other trace minerals, contribute to heart health. Heart disease is the #1 killer in America, and diet has a direct effect on why this is true. In countries where seafood is a bigger part of the diet, people tend to live longer, healthier lives. In Japan, where red meat barely existed before WWII, there was very little heart disease until they started adopting a more western diet, consuming more red meat and processed foods.

8. Brain Boost - Those omega 3's again - they're good for brain development in fetuses, good for those of us out of the womb as well. The scare stories about mercury in fish are causing pregnant women to stop eating fish, which is a terrible consequence - all the longitudinal studies done on women eating fish while pregnant, (Seychelles Study, UK Women's Study et al) show that children whose mothers regularly ate fish during pregnancy had children who performed better on both mental ability and agility tests. We're dumbing down our children with poor pre-natal diets. And making them less coordinated.
     Proper brain function, as well as the rest of our nervous system, depends on us having enough DHA, one of the omega 3s. Our brain is 60% fat, and DHA makes up between 15 to 20% of the fat. Put together, this means that 9 to 12% of our brains are DHA. (Must be what the zombies are looking for...) Drops in DHA in brain levels are associated with both cognitive impairment and slower neurological development in children. DHA deficiencies are also associated with neurological diseases like Parkinson's and the severity of multiple sclerosis.

7. Colon Care - As reported in a recent post, clinicians who did a study of nearly 78,000 people, comparing three diets - vegan, ovo-lacto (eggs & dairy) vegetarian and  pesce (fish) -vegetarian with a regular meat-eating diet were surprised to find that the group with the smallest incidence of colon cancer was the pesce-vegetarian group: People who eat fish as well as fresh fruits and vegetables were 43% less likely to develop colon cancer than people who eat red meat. (They thought it would be the vegans - this is why they do the studies!  Even scientists assume things that aren't necessarily true.)
How it stacked up:
Vegans: 16% less likely to get colon cancer than meat-eaters
Ovo-lacto Vegetarians: 18% less likely to get colon cancer than meat-eaters
Pesce-vegetarians: 43% less likely to get colon cancer than meat eaters

6. Eye Sight Enhancement - Omega 3's are also shown to be good for the prevention of macular degeneration, dry eye problems and the development of fetal eye tissue. According to the American Optometric Association: "DHA and EPA are concentrated only in a small number of less-frequently consumed fish-based foods. It is possible that increasing the intake of these nutrients can reduce the risk of vascular and degenerative retinal diseases. This can be achieved through higher consumption of fatty fish" such as salmon, tuna, mackerel, anchovies, sardines, halibut, trout, scallops, snapper & shrimpSee your way to the fish counter.

5. Arthritis Assuager - Omega 3s also take the bite out of arthritis.  From the Arthritis Foundation web site:
"A study at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston revealed that omega-3s actually convert into compounds that are 10,000 times more potent than the original fatty acids themselves. So what does this mean to us? These compounds include resolvins, which help bring an inflammatory response in the body to an end, says the study’s lead researcher, Charles Serhan, PhD, director, Center for Experimental Therapeutics and Reperfusion Injury at Harvard Medical School, Boston.
     "In a healthy immune system, the normal inflammatory process repairs damage and protects the body from infections. But in arthritis and inflammatory diseases, an overactive immune response leads to tissue degradation. Serhan’s research showed that the same pathway that signals the start of inflammation also includes an off switch. Omega-3s convert into these more powerful compounds, putting the brakes on this active process and causing it to screech to a halt.
     "What is not yet known is how much omega-3s are needed to optimize the body’s conversion from omega-3s into resolvins, says Serhan. Both Serhan and the American Dietetic Association (ADA), however, recommend food over supplements to reap omega-3 benefits. The best source: fish." 

4. Cooks Really Fast - We recommend the Canadian cooking method: 10 minutes per inch of thickness at medium high heat. So when you saute perch, it takes about 3 minutes, shrimp 4 minutes, a 3/4" fish steak or fillet on the grill 7 or 8 minutes. With no connective tissue, fish cooks fast. The biggest worry is cooking it too long, not too little. Fish even keeps cooking when you take it out of the oven - so err to the rare.

3. Less Waste - A fillet of fish is pretty much totally edible, unlike poultry or meat roasts that contain bones - you're paying for those bones. Six ounces of fresh fish is a decent portion of fish, so 12 oz. will feed two people. When did you ever feed two people on 12 oz. of beef, other than hamburger, which is full of the wrong kid of fat.

2. Tastes Terrific - Whatever flavor you favor, there is a fish or preparation that will please your taste buds. Ask us for ideas.

1.  Sends the Right Message - When your serve really fresh, delicious fish and shellfish to your family and friends, it tells them you care about their welfare. And who doesn't want to be beloved by family and friends?

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Searching for the perfect lobster roll...

The Fish husband and I had our first lobster rolls together in Bar Harbor, Maine, on a snowy early spring day over 20 years ago. It was not tourist season, so many restaurants weren't even open, but the one we found, in a hotel overlooking the lobster-trap lined harbor, had very tasty lobster rolls.
     It took us quite a few years to decide that there might be a market for lobster rolls in the Chicago area - if we found the right recipe, and also the right New England-style bun. So about six years ago, on a trip to visit friends in Boston, we went on a lobster-roll tasting expedition.
     There was a surprising variety - everything from a very plain lobster and mayo in a hot dog bun (wasn't very good), to the one we've tried to emulate that we enjoyed thoroughly in a restaurant in Salem. We tried a couple in the hot butter style, which some New Englanders swear by, but we found them cloyingly rich, and you couldn't taste the lobster.
     We enlisted our friends to help us sample, ordering different versions at the same restaurant and sharing tastes - they probably thought we were restaurant critics.
     When we got back to Chicago, we gave a list of ingredients to Jaimie, our talented chef, and he experimented until we felt he'd found the winning combination of mayonnaise, crunchy celery, a light touch of green onion, lemon juice, salt and pepper, and big chunks of Maine lobster.
     The hardest part was the bun - we absolutely didn't want to use hot dog buns.  We found a local bakery that knew how to bake New England-style rolls, and we introduced the sandwiches in our stores. The rolls are made from a slightly sweeter, less dense bread dough, and they toast beautifully to provide the perfect conveyance for the lobster filling. And we never ever slice them sideways - only down the top, just like the really good ones we had out east.
     It was a tough job, searching out a great lobster roll recipe, but somebody had to do it...
     This weekend, in honor of the NCAAs, we're selling our regular size lobster roll for $11, (Reg. $12.95), our half-pounder (at Hinsdale) for $17.95. And every Tuesday, you can get a two-fer - two lobster rolls for $20, but you have to get two to get the deal.
     We've found that there is definitely a market for lobster rolls in the Chicago area - when something is really good, it's good wherever you buy it.
     Let us know if there's something seafood-related from your part of the country that you miss - we just might try to start making it!

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Fish-eating Horror Stories

While reading something else on the internet a couple of days ago, a photo caught my eye in an unrelated link - a fish, with the headline "10 Fish You Should Never Eat."
     Most of them were species we don't really eat much of in this country, like shark and Spanish mackerel. Then they proceeded to blacken the reputation of albacore tuna, swordfish, orange roughy and Chilean sea bass. Their reasoning wasn't all because of health risk to humans, but because of diminishing supplies of the species. I'll get to that later.
     On the same day that I saw this scare story about fish, I received an email from an on-line health publication with the following information:

A new medical study of over 77,000 subjects has shown the huge benefit of adding fish to a vegetarian diet - pesco-vegetarianism. The study indicates that those vegetarians who also eat fish might have a better health benefits than vegetarians who keep it strictly green.
     "We weren't expecting the pesco-vegetarians to show the lowest risk," explains Dr. Michael Orlich, assistant professor of medicine and public health with Loma Linda University. "But the finding for pesco-vegetarians, compared with non-vegetarians, was highly statistically significant, so this is very unlikely to be due to chance."
      "All vegetarians together had on average a 22 percent reduction in the risk of developing colorectal cancer, compared with non-vegetarians," he said. In terms of individual cancers, that equated to a 19 percent lower risk for colon cancer and a 29 percent lower risk for rectal cancer, the researchers found.
      Pesco-vegetarians enjoyed a 43 percent reduction in risk of colorectal cancers compared with non-vegetarians. For vegans and lacto-ovo vegetarians the risk fell 16 percent to 18 percent, while semi-vegetarians had an 8 percent lower risk, according to the study findings. 
      Cardiologists want us all to eat fish a couple times of week, and now this study shows that your gut can benefit greatly from a largely fish and vegetable diet as well.  The fact that some fish have trace amounts of mercury is a smoke screen - I strongly believe that fish stories like the one I saw are put there by meat industry PR people. Many scientific studies have shown that red meat contributes to heart disease and when charred is a known carcinogen - how many scare stories do you see about that? How many "10 Red Meats You Should Never Eat" articles?
     Every actual scientific study of the effects of eating a healthy diet that includes fish several times a week shows it to be beneficial, to heart health, your eye sight, your memory, your digestive tract - can't really think of a body part that it's not good for. As I've noted before, cultures which consume a diet rich in vegetables and seafood have the greatest longevity.
     Moral: listen to the science and ignore the scare stories that have no scientific basis.

As far as conserving species - we agree with limiting the catch on certain species, and we never sell anything that is truly endangered, like blue fin tuna or beluga caviar. While Chili bass is endangered in some fisheries, it is not in others. We only buy legally caught Chili bass. There are people who rely on selling their catch to support their families. However, there are fishing boats off the coast of South America catching these fish in areas where they aren't supposed to fish.  If you only buy from reliable fish sellers who know where their fish comes from, it's OK to eat. And it's delicious.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Why do people think cooking fish is hard?

When we meet people at parties or other events and they recognize our name, we've heard countless times "I only get fish in restaurants, because I don't know how to cook it."
     This is such a shame! And lame!!
     Fish is one of the easiest proteins to cook - it cooks quickly, and you can saute, it, bake it, broil it, and in better weather, grill it (or at least many of the heartier fish are good for grilling).
     Unlike red meats, fish doesn't have connective tissue, so heat penetrates the flesh quickly. We go by the Canadian cooking method, i.e. 10 minutes of cooking time per inch of thickness, measured at the thickest part of the fillet, cooked at medium high heat. In the oven, we generally cook at 425 degrees; on the stove top, we set the burner between medium and high, same on the grill. The higher heat seals in the moisture - cooking at slower, lower temperatures will not only take longer and use more energy, it will dry out the fish.
     Just about the worst thing you can do to fish is over cook it - fish will keep cooking after you take it out of the oven, so if it's a little bit rare when you take it out, it probably won't be by the time you serve it.
     And most important of all, start with really good quality fresh fish. Once fish goes off even slightly, it's not going to taste good no matter how you cook it. A lot of people think that they can't cook fish because when they've tried, it didn't turn out well. I'd guess that a very high percentage of these people bought sub-standard fish.
     I've told the story many times, but here it is again for those who haven't seen it. About 20 years ago, when we had more locations. one of our culinary staff was doing demos at our Highland Park store. A lady came in and tasted the recipe Joan had prepared, commented on how good it was, and picked up the recipe card. A week later, she came in and assailed Joan, saying her recipe was faulty. Joan went through it with her, step by step, trying to find where she might have gone wrong. but the customer claimed to have followed the directions exactly. Exasperated, Joan finally asked, "Did you get the fish from us?" To which the woman replied "no, it was cheaper at the grocery store."
     Joan's immediate response was "We don't guarantee our recipes with other people's fish!" The reason we don't is because we have no control over other retailer's quality or handling of the fish. Super market fish is often "thawed for your convenience" - once it's been frozen, it should stay frozen until you're going to cook it. Grocery store fillets are often sitting right on the ice, which sucks the juice out of it, and it generally stays in the case much longer than it should. Chain stores,with distribution centers, add days to the time between fish coming in and getting into the cases - ours usually comes from the airport and goes into the cases the same day.
     With fish, freshness counts more than with any kind of meat or poultry. If you buy poor quality fish at a cheap price and it doesn't taste good, what exactly have you saved?
     Here are some general cooking suggestions based on type of seafood:

Meatier fish, like salmon, tuna, chili bass, swordfish, mahi mahi, marlin, wahoo, ono etc. are suitable for baking, searing and baking, or grilling. Tuna should always be served rare - so don't follow the Canadian method with that one! At home, we like to bake most of these in the winter, toss them on the grill in the summer, and add one of our marinades or toppings to add a little extra flavor.
     Though fairly thick, whitefish, cod, scrod and haddock are more suited to baking, as they are tender and can fall apart more easily on a grill.

Rainbow trout, tilapia, sole, red snapper, lake perch, baramundi, walleye, any of the thinner fish are well suited to saute or baking, not so much grilling, because they can too easily fall apart and drop into the fire. If you're longing to grill one of these, try using a wood plank that's been soaked in water to hold the fish. You can also bake these - great for doing a nut crust.

Shrimp is great for stir fry, paella, grilling on skewers, sauteing with garlic, they're used in a ton of recipes. We have several wonderful ones on our web site, Shrimp cook very quickly - in 3 or 4 minutes - and are best prepared right before serving.
     Scallops are also good sauteed, and they make wonderful kebabs as well. Mussels should be steamed or oven baked in a wrought iron skillet.  Clams can be cooked the same ways, and both clams and mussels are great in paella, cioppino, bouillabaisse etc.
     Lobster tails we prefer baked and finished under the broiler -- watch our Lobster 101 video on line for easy to follow directions. Live lobsters should be boiled or steamed - and we'll do it for you for a small charge.
     Crab legs, claws and crab meat are cooked before shipping, so all you need to do is incorporate the crab meat into your favorite recipes, or in the case of crab legs, thaw and reheat in your oven or steamer. Soft shell crabs should be dusted with flour and sauteed - one of the most wonderful treats of the spring.
     Oysters we prefer not to cook at all - we just open 'em up and slurp 'em down. And we love it that we can eat them all summer long now, no worries about having an "R" in the month.

Kebabs are an easy and festive thing to serve for parties. We will make them for you, or make your own with cubed fresh vegetables interspersed with tuna, swordfish, salmon, chili bass, wahoo, ono, marlin, shrimp, scallops. We generally marinate the kebabs before grilling - ask us for suggestions.

SUMMARY: Start with really fresh fish, cook it at medium high heat using the most suitable cooking method, and DON'T OVERCOOK IT! Err to the rare is my motto.