Friday, September 6, 2013

Is it as Easy as Go Fish?

How does that old saying go? Give a man a fish and he will eat for a day... teach a man to fish and he will sit in a boat and drink beer all day... or something like that. 

A successful day of fishing on one of Canada’s lakes with a shore meal or fish fry for supper is a day well spent. The fish is at its freshest, the ingredients simple and you are surrounded by nature.  But now that summer is winding down (I know… I am cranky about that too) and your supply of fresh lake fish is drying up  - what do you need to know to keep eating fish all year long.
I guess it could be as simply as going to the store and buying fish but the foodie in me makes me dig deeper. Like purchasing many things these days, buying fish involves balancing choosing a heart healthy option with concerns over contamination and sustainable fishing practices. Maybe this is one of the reasons most Canadians do not eat the recommend 2 servings of fish per week. I know, for myself, growing up on a farm in land-locked Saskatchewan there was not a lot of access to fish except at the lake in the summer or in the form of canned tuna and salmon sandwiches or fish sticks! So, fish is not an inherent, go-to-source of protein like beef, pork and chicken for me. However, it is now easy to find good sources of fish at your local grocery store and with health and fresh flavours in mind I love trying new fish recipes!
So, what do you need to know to make good fish choices?
Let’s start with the nutritional benefits. Whitefish, such as, pike and pickerel, are great sources of low saturated fat protein but do not contain significant amounts of the desired heart healthy omega 3 fats. Eating ‘fatty’ fish that are high in omega 3 fats, such as salmon, Arctic char, mackerel, sardines, trout, tuna and halibut has the added benefit of improving heart health, brain function, blood pressure and more because of its anti-inflammatory properties. This is really the fish that we are suppose to eat to meet Canada’s Food Guide recommendation of 2 servings per week. According to the Journal of the American Medial Association, research indicates that eating the recommended 2 servings each week can reduce the risk of dying from heart disease by more then one third. Again, whitefish is not bad it is just not quite as good for you as fish that contain more omega 3s.
What about contamination? The contaminants of most concern today, in regard to eating fish, are mercury, dioxins, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and pesticide residues. Bottom line, all creditable health and environmental agencies that I checked across Canada and the US state that the health benefits of eating fish about twice per week outweighs the risks of contamination.  Especially, if you follow a few guidelines:
·       Choose from a variety of fish sources that usually contain very low levels of contamination include shellfish (scallops, clams, mussels, oysters, shrimp, lobster, crab) salmon, trout, herring, haddock, pollock (Boston bluefish), sole, Atlantic mackerel, flounder, canned tuna and lake whitefish, such as pike and pickerel. (Source: Health Canada) Canned tuna is sourced from younger smaller fish and therefore, has significantly less mercury then fresh or frozen tuna.
·       Avoid eating predatory fish such as shark, king mackerel, swordfish or tilefish (golden bass or golden snapper) because they contain higher levels of mercury. They eat a lot of other fish and live longer then most fish so the levels are higher.
·       Don’t exceed the recommended amount of 2 servings (less for pregnant women and small children) per week.
Looking for sustainable sources? To ensure the continuation of abundant oceans and healthy fishing industries choosing fish produced from sustainable sources is a no brainer. It does take some research. Two great organizations to reference are and The Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch at Both organizations provide lists that are frequently updated and rank recommendations by best, alternatives or some concerns and avoid. Who thought you could ever buy sushi at Sobeys but with its growing popularity these organizations even include the sushi names. Seafood Watch also has a handy app for your phone so you can check it right in the grocery store.
Hopefully, all this information has not scared you off eating fish and will help you make informed choices. Fish is widely viewed as a healthy food and with a little research and a great recipe is a dish your family will savour. I have included recipes for whitefish, as well as, higher omega 3 fish such as salmon and canned tuna! Enjoy.

Tips for Buying and Preparing Fish
  • If you’re buying a whole fish, look at the eyes. If they are cloudy, don’t buy the fish.
  • The flesh of fresh fish should always be firm and adhere firmly to the bone. The flesh should spring back when touched. 
  • When buying a fillet, it should have sheen, not slime (unless it’s catfish, which is usually always slimy).
  • Fish should smell fresh, like fish, but the odor shouldn’t be too strong.
  • The fish shouldn’t be dry. If it is, that means it was exposed to air and wasn’t packed correctly.
How much fish to buy:
  • Whole round fish: 3/4-1 lb per person
  • Dressed - Cleaned: 1/2-3/4 lb per person
  • Fillets or Steaks: 1/3-1/2 lb per person
  • Always marinate fish and shellfish in the refrigerator, never at room temperature.
How to tell if a fish is cooked (if it flakes you have gone too far):
  • General rule of thumb is to cook fish about 8 to 10 minutes per inch of thickness. Start checking for doneness after 8 minutes.
  • Fish continues to cook for a minute or 2 after removing from heat so it is best to stop cooking when the fish is just about cooked.
  • Since the meat of the fish is somewhat translucent, it begins to become opaque as it cooks, which is one method of visually checking for doneness. Or use a knife or fork to check the interior of the fish – it should gently resist flaking but show signs of firming. It is the just before flaking stage that you are aiming for.
  • Many cookbooks indicate that fish is done when it flakes in reality flaking generally indicates that too much moisture has been lost and the fish is becoming dry or overcooked.
To thaw frozen fish or seafood:
  • Thaw fish slowly in the refrigerator for 24 hours, never at room temperature for food safety reasons.
  • If you're in a hurry, run tightly wrapped fish under COLD water. Cook it as soon as possible to minimize the loss of juices.
  • Try not to thaw frozen fish completely before cooking or it may make them very dry and mushy.
Leftover fish:
  • You can keep it up to three days.
How to eliminate fishy odors when cooking:
  • Put drops of lavender on cloth or put out a small bowl of white vinegar in the kitchen.
  • Recipes that include green onion, lemon juice, vinegar, wine and rice wine neutralize the fat in fish. When the fat is neutralized, the fish odor disappears.

Grilled Salmon Over Lentil Salad with Walnut Vinaigrette
This healthy, delicious meal is easy to make and easy to enjoy. Eat it for lunch, dinner or even a picnic. This recipe was developed by Carla Hall from the TV show The Chew!
  • 4 salmon fillets (4 oz/125 g portions), skin removed
  • canola oil cooking spray
  • 2 Tbsp Dijon mustard 30 mL
  • 2 Tbsp canola oil 30 mL
  • 2 sprigs fresh tarragon, pulled and roughly chopped
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
Lentil Salad:
  • 1 cup dry brown or green lentils, rinsed 250 mL
  • 2 garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 rosemary sprig
  • 1 medium carrot, finely diced
  • 1 celery stalk, finely diced
  • 1/4 cup red onion, very finely diced 60 mL
  • 1/4 cup parsley, finely chopped 60 mL
  • 1 Tbsp chopped tarragon 15 mL
Walnut Vinaigrette:
  • 2 Tbsp red onion, minced 30 mL
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1 Tbsp Dijon mustard 30 mL
  • 1/4 cup rice or champagne vinegar 60 mL
  • 1/2 cup canola oil 125 mL
  • 1/2 cup walnuts, toasted and coarsely chopped 125 mL
  • 1/4 tsp pepper 1 mL
  • lemon wedges for garnish
1.    In medium bowl, combine all marinade ingredients. Place salmon in marinade and gently toss until thoroughly coated. Place fish in resealable bag in refrigerator for at least 1 hour.
2.    Heat grill to 375 °F (190 °C), when it’s too hot to hold hand above coals for more than 5 seconds.
3.    In 5-quart pot, bring 3 cups (750 mL) of water to a boil. Add lentils, garlic cloves, bay leaf and rosemary sprig. Cook lentils until just tender, about 30 minutes. Strain in colander.
4.    In plastic bowl or cup with fitted lid, combine all vinaigrette ingredients. Shake until thoroughly mixed and emulsified. Season with pepper.

5.    In large bowl, toss lentils, carrots, celery and red onions together. Stir in enough vinaigrette, about 1/4 cup (60 mL), to coat lentil mixture and store rest in refrigerator for up to one week. Toss in fresh parsley and tarragon.  

6.    Spray grill rack lightly and cautiously with cooking spray, then carefully place salmon fillets on hot grill 2 inches (5 cm) apart. Cook on each side 3-4 minutes at diagonal angle to grill rack for professional-looking grill marks. Remove salmon from grill and serve over lentil salad. Garnish with lemon wedges, if desired. 
Yield: 4 servings. Serving size: 1 fillet.
Tip: The marinade doesn’t have a lot of acid, so it’s perfect for marinating the salmon for up to 10 hours before grilling (or broiling). Consider placing the salmon and marinade in a resealable bag before work and cooking it when you get home. As another time-saver, the components of the lentil salad may be made up to a day ahead and tossed in the vinaigrette at the last minute or 2 hours before serving. As a quicker alternative, use 1 1/2 cups (375 mL) canned, rinsed lentils or black or small red beans instead.

Grilled Fish Tacos with Citrus Slaw
  • 1 Tbsp chili powder 15 mL
  • 1/4 cup canola oil 60 mL
  • 2 Tbsp fresh lemon or lime juice 30 mL
  • 4 firm white fish fillets 4
Citrus Slaw:
  • 2 cups prepared coleslaw mix 500 mL
  • 1 cup orange sections, diced 250 mL
  • 1 small red pepper, thinly sliced 1
  • 1 small red onion, thinly sliced 1
  • 1/2 cup white vinegar 125 mL
  • 1/4 cup canola oil 60 mL
  • 3 Tbsp granulated sugar 45 mL
  • 1 tsp salt 5 mL
  • 1/4 tsp pepper 1 mL
  • 4 Whole wheat tortillas (10 in/25.5cm) size
  • lemon and or lime wedges
  • cilantro leaves (optional)
1. In a bowl, combine chili powder, canola oil and lemon juice. Add fillets and marinate for 20 minutes. Remove from marinade and arrange fillets in grilling pan. Brush marinade over fillets. Grill 6 to 8 minutes on each side or until fish flakes easily when tested with a fork.
2. To prepare citrus slaw: In a bowl, combine coleslaw mix, oranges, pepper and onion. In a small bowl, whisk together vinegar, canola oil, sugar, salt and pepper. Pour over slaw mixture and gently toss. Cover and chill until ready to serve.
3. To serve: Place 1 fillet on a tortilla and top with 3/4 cup (175 mL) citrus slaw. Squeeze lemon and lime over slaw. Fold and roll tortilla. Garnish with cilantro, if desired.
Yield: 4 servings.

Salmon and Quinoa Patties
Delicious. Simple. Healthy. Enjoy these patties accompanied with grilled vegetables, on wholegrain rolls or made into 16 mini-patties for an easy appetizer. This recipe was developed by my dietitian friend Patricia Chuey (
  • 2 Tbsp canola oil, divided 30 mL
  • 1 cup minced onion 250 mL
  • ½ cup finely chopped celery 125 mL
  • 1 cup cooked quinoa 250 mL
  • 2 cans, 180 g each, salmon, rinsed and drained
  • 3 eggs
  • 2 Tbsp green relish 30 mL
  • ½ tsp salt 2 mL 
  1. In a large non-stick pan, heat 1Tbsp (15 mL) canola oil over medium heat. Add onion and celery and sauté for about 5 minutes. Remove from heat.
  2. In large bowl, combine prepared quinoa with cooked onions and celery. Add salmon, eggs, relish and salt. Stir well to combine.
  3. Shape mixture into 8 patties, about 1/3 cup (75 mL) mixture each.
  4. In a saucepan, heat remaining canola oil over medium heat.
  5. Cook patties for 3 to 4 minutes, undisturbed, per side or until golden brown. Flip over and continue cooking for about 4 additional minutes. 
Yield: 8 patties. 

Sweet Soy and Tuna-Topped Bibb Wraps
These Asian-inspired wraps make a quick and healthy lunch. The almonds give them a nice crunch.
  • 1/2 package (10 oz) finely shredded angel hair coleslaw mix
  • 1 cup frozen green peas, thawed 250 mL
  • 1/2 cup slivered almonds, toasted (2 oz) 125 mL
  • 2 Tbsp low-sodium soy sauce 30 mL
  • 2 Tbsp canola oil 30 mL
  • 2 Tbsp granulated sugar 30 mL
  • 2 Tbsp cider vinegar 30 mL
  • 1/4 tsp dried pepper flakes 1 mL
  • 12 Boston Bibb lettuce leaves
  • 1 can (5 oz) low-sodium tuna, rinsed and drained, preferably albacore 140 g
1. In large bowl, combine coleslaw mix, peas and almonds.
2. In small bowl, whisk together soy sauce, canola oil, sugar, vinegar and pepper flakes.
3. Place lettuce leaves on large platter; spoon equal amounts of coleslaw mixture in each of leaves. Spoon equal amounts of soy mixture evenly over each (about 2 tsp/10 mL each), and sprinkle evenly with flaked tuna.
Yield: 4 servings. Serving Size: 3 lettuce cups (with 1 cup/250 mL mixture and 2 Tbsp/30 mL sauce).


Cumin Crusted Fish
This quick, easy and healthy sauté is perfect for any white fish.  It is a great dish at the lake for all the fish you catch!
  • 1/2 - 1 Tbsp ground cumin 7.5 - 15 mL
  • 1/4 tsp thyme 1 mL
  • 1 tsp paprika 5 mL
  • 1/2 tsp lemon pepper 2 mL
  • 1 lb white fish fillets (walleye, halibut, cod...) 500g
  • 1/2 Tbsp canola oil 7.5 mL
  • 2 Tbsp chopped parsley 30 mL
  • lemon or lime wedges
1. In a small bowl, mix together cumin, thyme, paprika, and lemon pepper.
2. Rub spice mixture on both sides of fillets.
3. In a large skillet, set over medium heat, heat canola oil. Add fish fillets and cook
until browned on both sides and fish is opaque in the center about 4 minutes per side.
4. Sprinkle with parsley and serve immediately with lemon or lime wedges.
Yield: 4 servings. Serving Size: 4 oz (125 g) fish.

Whitefish with Potatoes, Fennel and Carrots
Enjoy this seafood and vegetable dinner with simple ingredients and instructions, but with the taste and look of a restaurant meal.
  • 2 Tbsp canola oil 30 mL
  • 1 medium onion, thinly sliced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 small fennel bulb, trimmed and cut into thin slices, a few fronds reserved
  • 4 small potatoes, thinly sliced
  • 2 large carrots, peeled and shaved into large pieces
  • 3/4 cup low-sodium chicken broth 175 mL
  • 2 Tbsp tomato paste 30 mL
  • 3 wide strips orange peel, white pith removed
  • 4 whitefish fillets (4 oz/125 g each)
  1. In large non-stick pan, heat canola oil over medium-high heat. Add onion and garlic and sauté until onion is soft, about 6 to 7 minutes. Add fennel and continue to cook until fennel is tender crisp, about 4 to 5 minutes. Add potatoes and carrots. Continue cooking.
  2. Whisk together chicken broth and tomato paste and add to pan along with orange peel. Simmer 10 minutes, covered.
  3. Place fillets on top of vegetables. Cover pan and cook 10 minutes longer or until fish is cooked throughout. To serve, garnish with fennel fronds.
Yield: 4 servings. Serving Size: 1 fillet and 1 cup (250 mL) vegetables.

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