Tide starting to turn in favor or fish
JUDITH DRYNANThe Globe and Mail.  Toronto, Ont.:Nov 13, 1985.  p. F.2 

 

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Tide starting to turn in favor or fish

Wednesday, November 13, 1985

JUDITH DRYNAN

BY JUDITH DRYNAN Special to The Globe and Mail FOR YEARS, we've been hearing that we should eat more fish if we want to be healthy and slender, but until lately, we haven't done much about it.

Fish, battered and boiled in oil, was somehow connected to either penance or chips, and sometimes it even had those - ugh - little wee bones in it.

While the Japanese, the French, the Portuguese, the Spanish, the Italians, the Greeks, the Peruvians, the Cajuns and the Inuit based a large part of their cusines on their briny brethern (without, incidentally, choking to death en masse), most North Americans vented our fear of fish with jokes and puns. We floundered around just for the halibut, looking for a plaice to skate with a little shrimp who really had sole. And we continued to eat meat.

Now, however, the tide is beginning to turn. In the last five years there has been a definite upswing in Canada's consumption of fish, due in part to our love affair with fitness and health. Fish is a wonderful source of low-calorie protein and is also what is known as "nutrient- dense." This means that there's a lot of healthy stuff packed into just a small portion. As well as protein, most fish flesh contains goodly amounts of vitamins, especially B6 and niacin, and is low in carbohydrates. It is also an excellent source of minerals: iodine, good for your thyroid; iron, good for your blood; and fluoride, good for your teeth. Phosphorus and potassium help regulate your metabolism, and zinc, prevalent in shellfish, will keep your immunity system in high gear.

Canned fish is particularly high in nutritive value, and if you eat unboned canned fish like sardines and salmon, you also get the benefit of high concentrations of calcium - necessary for strong bones and the prevention of the crippling bone disease called osteoporosis. For example, four ounces of sardines contain nearly 500 grams of calcium compared to 300 grams for one cup of non-fat milk.

While undoubtedly excellent for our general well-being, perhaps the most exciting health aspect of eating fish is the specific good it can do our hearts. Fish and seafoods are low in cholesterol and saturated fats (these are the two villains of atherosclerosis - the condition of clogged heart arteries which is responsible for about half the deaths in North America each year) and also high in polyunsaturated fats. Most of us are familiar with the polyunsaturated fat in vegetable oils (called a omega-6) , which actually fights cholesterol. The polyunsaturated fatty acids found in deepwater fish are slightly different. Called omega-3s, they are proving to be at least twice as effective as omega-6s in lowering blood cholesterol. There is also evidence that omega-3s are good for the skin and, indeed, the brain - adding more than a grain of truth to the old wives' tales.

Dr. Harvey Anderson, chairman of the nutrition department at the University of Toronto, says that the effects of essential fatty acids on our systems is still being explored. "As far as the omega-3s being good for the brain and the skin is concerned - this is probably true. The original concept is that all cell membranes reflect the foods that we eat, and it looks as if essential fatty acids are having an unusually positive effect. Certainly in the area of heart disease, preliminary studies show that omega-3s are lowering blood cholesterol significantly." Dr. Anderson cites an article published recently in the New England Journal of Medicine presenting the findings of 25 years of research into the effects of eating fish. These preliminary findings, which included control studies of non-fish eaters, seem to point strongly toward a dramatic reduction in heart disease due primarily to the consumption of fish. "What is even more interesting," Dr. Anderson adds, "is that such a small amount has to be consumed to achieve this result." In fact, the report suggests that as little as three ounces of fish a week will lower the risk of heart disease by as much as 50 per cent.

Lest fish be regarded as some sort of flaky medicine, however, most enthusiasts are quick to point out that much of the increased popularity is due to the fact that fish tastes good. There are now countless alternatives to the breaded and tartared token fish dishes of the past, and we seem to like it that way. "Last year, Canadians ate 10 per cent more fish than they did the year before," says Michele Daignault, executive director of the Fisheries Food Centre in Ottawa. "Next year, we expect an even bigger increase." This seems only right and just, since Canada exports more fish than any other country in the world, although Canadians eat only 10 per cent of our catch. Toronto and Montreal share about 80 per cent of this consumption, with Toronto leading by a couple of percentage points.

Mrs. Daignault feels that two things - travel and good local restaurants - are winning people in Toronto over to fish. "North Americans travel to Europe and eat the wonderful fish dishes there. Then when they come back, they want to recreate that experience." It doesn't seem to be too difficult with the increasing number of fine restaurants devoted exclusively to fish and seafood. Torontonians are still making lobster their claws-down favorite, but are taking other fish to their hearts as well. "There are over 150 different kinds of fish," says Mrs. Daignault, "and each one has a unique flavor." There certainly seems to be a whole other culinary world out there under the water, but beginners might be well- advised to stick to shallow waters where mollusks (hinged shellfish like clams and mussels) are concerned.

Jerry Kokorian of The Round Window seafood restaurant on the Danforth says, "Some people don't like shellfish, and occasionally shellfish doesn't like some people. In this case, there is always other fresh fish available. It used to be that sole was the most popular choice, but now we're serving a lot of pickeral, grouper, salmon and sea bass." The other way to cook and eat fish, of course, is to do it at home. This is becoming more popular as people discover how simple and delicious it is. "The quality of the fish you can buy has improved tremendously over the past five years," Mrs. Daignault points out. "Fresh fish is available all year round, and during the peak fishing period between April and October, large amounts are frozen in ways which make cooking as easy as possible." This includes fillets individually wrapped, some of which are guaranteed completely boneless.

The big four in fish sales for the consumer - particularly in frozen fish - are ocean perch, cod, haddock and sole. Sole used to be number one, but at the last poll, ocean perch had risen to the top of the pool. "It has a thin skin and good texture - plus the price is very good," explains Mrs. Daignault.

Once you've chosen your fish, cooking it is usually a snap. In fact, the one mistake people usually make is to cook the fish too long, so that it arrives at the table dry and tough. "This is the original fast food," says Dr. Anderson. He and his wife eat fish often, with whoever is home from work first popping it into the microwave. But even without a microwave, fish steaks and fillets cook so quickly that it's a good idea to have everything ready before the fish hits the heat.

There are three basic ways of cooking fish for everyday eating: baking, broiling or grilling, and pan-frying. Most fish people are trying to get away from deep-frying, or at least making sure that the oil they are cooked in is polyunsaturated vegetable oil.

Fish bakes best at a high temperature, and 450 degreesF. is a good heat for all varieties. The standard rule for timing is to allow 10 minutes for each inch at the thickest part. You should check before you think it's done, though, and if it flakes with a fork, serve it immediately. If you don't want to follow a specific recipe, just put the fish in a baking dish, top with a little butter or vegetable oil and seasonings. You usually can't go wrong with a bit of parsley either.

Broiling is one of the favorite methods of cooking fish in Toronto restaurants. Mr. Gregory of Gregory's restaurant on Yonge Street says that if you don't have a grill on your stove, you can use the same method with the broiler as long as you don't put the fish so close that it burns. "All you have to do is brush the fish with melted butter or garlic butter depending on your taste, and broil the right time for its thickness. Most of the time, you shouldn't even turn it over - just brush every once in a while with the butter. This is so simple, and one of the things I like about fish. It's honest. There's no way you can play games with fish, like cooking it and leaving it sitting around. You cook it, and you eat it. Delicious." He adds this tip. "However you are cooking fish, always dust it lightly first with a little flour. This won't put on a coating - just seal in the juices so the fish is always moist." Pan-frying is the classic way to cook fillets. A little butter in a pan that's not too hot is all that is necessary, but you can also add seasonings, mushrooms, lemon juice or a splash of white wine.

If you buy fresh fish, you can store it for up to seven days in the refrigerator on a bed of ice, although it's probably a good idea to eat it as soon as you can. As far as the frozen varieties are concerned, A. Jan Howarth in the excellent Canadian Fish Cook Book (Douglas and McIntyre) suggests that you thaw the frozen fish just until it bends easily. If you cook it completely frozen, she says, the outside will be tough before the inside is done. If you thaw it out completely, many of the juices wil be lost before you even cook it. Partial thawing is the answer for evenly done, moist results. FISH FILLETS VERONIQUE This delicious and classic recipe comes from a little Department of Fisheries and Oceans booklet called Fish and Seafood For All Seasons, and has been tested and tasted by Michele Daignault. You can use different kinds of fillets - including cod, sole, haddock and pickerel - with excellent results. The green grapes make it a Veronique. Substitute mushrooms and you have Fillets Bonne Femme. 1 pound turbot fillets, partly thawed 1/4 cup green onion, minced 2 tbsps. parsley, chopped 1/4 tsp. tarragon 1/2 tsp. chervil 1/2 tsp. salt 1/2 cup white wine 1 cup water 1/3 cup milk 2 tbsps. butter 2 tbsps. flour 1/2 cup green seedless grapes, halved Place fillets in a shallow greased baking dish, sprinkle with onion, herbs and salt, and add wine and water. Cook in a preheated 450 degreesF. oven for 15 minutes or until flaky. Remove fish to a warm platter and cover lightly.

Reduce the cooking liquid on high heat to about a cup and strain it into the milk. In the same pan, melt the butter and add the flour. Take off the heat while you whisk in the liquid, then whisk on the heat until smooth and thick. Add most of the grapes, pour over the fillets and place under the broiler until golden.

Decorate with the remaining grapes. Serves two to four. OCEAN PERCH CITRUS FILLETS This recipe for popular ocean perch comes from The Canadian Fish Cook Book by A. Jan Howarth (Douglas and McIntyre). It's colorful and tasty. 1 pound ocean perch fillets, partly thawed 1/4 cup butter, melted 1 tbsp. orange or lemon juice 1 tsp. salt 1/4 tsp. fennel 1 tbsp. orange or lemon rind, coarsely grated 6 slices orange or lemon Parsley sprigs Place fillets skin side down in a greased shallow baking dish. Combine butter, juice, salt and fennel and pour over fillets. Bake in a preheated 450 degreesF. oven for 10 minutes per inch at thickest part. Remove to heated plates and garnish with orange or lemon slices and parsley.

Serves two to three. SALMON STEAKS WITH PEPPER AND WINE Here is one of the most popular ways of cooking salmon. Simple and delicious, this version comes from Italian Gourmet Cooking by Pasquale Carpino (Summerhill Press). 4 tbsps. vegetable oil 1 onion, thinly sliced 4 (8-oz.) salmon steaks 1 tbsp. crushed peppercorns 4 ounces white wine 4 tbsps. butter Juice of one lemon Salt to taste 2 tbsps. chopped parsley 2 lemons, cut in wedges Heat the oil in a large frying pan and cook the onion until translucent. Press the peppercorns into the salmon steaks, then add steaks to the pan and cook about eight minutes on each side.

Add the wine, butter and lemon juice and simmer for five minutes. To test if the fish is done, insert a fork in the round bone and try to lift it out. If it comes out easily, the salmon is done.

Remove steaks to a warm serving platter, season the sauce with salt to taste and pour over the fish. Sprinkle with chopped parsley and garnish with lemon wedges.

Serves four.