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What to Know About Cooking Seafood

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Most Americans aren’t eating enough fish. In fact, 80% to 90% of Americans fall short of the twice-a-week recommendations to eat seafood – which includes fish and shellfish – according to a study conducted by the Agricultural Research Service at the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

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That means too many people are missing out on the benefits of seafood, especially the omega-3 fatty acids that are hard to get elsewhere. In fact, one study suggests this fish deficiency contributes to 55,000 preventable deaths each year due to heart disease, stroke or Type 2 diabetes.

What to Know About Cooking Seafood

Seafood omega-3s are especially valuable for pregnant women, infants and children because of the documented brain development and eye health benefits.

Seafood is also a nutrient-rich, high-quality lean protein. So when you eat seafood instead of a well-marbled steak, you’re dramatically slashing saturated fat.

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Basics of Cooking Seafood

Maybe you like to order a seafood entrée when you go out to eat, but you’re reluctant to make fish at home. Seafood is typically associated with a higher price tag (although not always), so home cooks may not pick it up at the store due to a fear of failure in the kitchen.

“People tend to feel intimidated when it comes to cooking seafood at home, but it’s quite easy,” says registered dietitian Jessica Miller, nutrition communications manager at the Seafood Nutrition Partnership, a nonprofit organization that is addressing the biggest barriers to eating seafood, including a lack of confidence in buying and preparing seafood.

“As with most seafood, you do not need a lot to make it taste delicious,” say Miller, who recommends a simple preparation of a little oil, salt, pepper and a squeeze of lime.

Many types of fish are delicate and tender, so it’s important not to overcook your fish. Miller suggests the 10-minute rule: Measure the fish at its thickest point, and cook it on medium for 10 minutes per inch, turning halfway through the cooking time.

That means a thin fish like sole or perch cooks in about 4 to 5 minutes, while a thicker salmon or tuna steak might be closer to 15 to 20 minutes.

Knowing when fish is done is a common source of confusion. Miller recommends testing fish with a fork. Simply insert a fork at an angle at the thickest part of the fish and twist gently. The fish will flake easily when it’s done and it will lose its translucent or raw appearance. You can also use a food thermometer and cook fish to an internal temperature of 140 to 145 degrees Fahrenheit.

Healthy Seafood Swaps and Additions

To begin incorporating seafood into your weekly menus, Miller recommends you start by making seafood versions of familiar foods.

  • Add shrimp or other seafood to your favorite pasta and ramen recipes.
  • Finish your homemade pizza with chopped shrimp or crabmeat instead of pepperoni.
  • Instead of beef or chicken, make a stir-fry with shrimp.
  • Grill a salmon steak instead of a ribeye.
  • Make a tuna melt with canned tuna instead of a plain grilled cheese sandwich.
  • Replace your usual taco filling with fish.
  • Top salads and grain bowls with canned or pouched tuna or salmon.
  • Use fish fillets instead of chicken for your favorite sheet-pan or air-fryer recipe.

Making Seafood More Convenient

Fortunately, food companies are making it easier than ever to eat seafood at home with the introduction of innovative new products including portioned and packaged seafood kits with marinades and sauces. Check out the freezer aisle for bags of ready-to-cook seafood paella, seafood boils, shrimp scampi, shrimp pad thai and other restaurant-inspired seafood dishes. It’s no longer just about fish sticks. Look for salmon sausages and burgers, crab cakes and lobster rolls.

Another big trend in seafood innovations is focused on snacking. For instance, Bumble Bee makes a new “Protein on the Run Snack Kit” that features marinated tuna in olive oil with jalapeno, lemon or black pepper with crackers. For your at-home entertaining, look for ready-to-eat crab or salmon dip, frozen shrimp potstickers or dumplings, and tinned fish.

Gaining Seafood Confidence in the Kitchen

Food writer, culinary instructor and self-described seafood fanatic Karista Bennett is on a mission to help increase seafood literacy with her new cookbook “For The Love of Seafood: 100 Flawless Flavorful Recipes that Anyone Can Cook.”

She recommends choosing seafood recipes that use an easy cooking method like roasting, baking or steaming. Once you get comfortable with one cooking method, she suggests moving on to a new one like pan frying or grilling.

To get started, Bennett says to remove the fish from the refrigerator at least 15 minutes prior to cooking. This will allow the fish to come to room temperature so your fish will cook more evenly and efficiently. Then, gently paper dry your fish before cooking. “The extra moisture on fish or shellfish will steam the fish rather than crisp it or will make a recipe weepy with extra liquid,” she says.

Yet, when roasting or baking fish you will need a a small amount of liquid or oil to keep the fish moist during cooking. A drizzle of lemon and olive oil, white wine or fish broth make excellent choices, she says. Another alternative is to gently lay a piece of parchment paper over the fish in the baking dish during baking.

“If you’re faced with one large fish filet, cut it into manageable pieces,” she says. “This will allow the fish to cook faster, but more efficiently. For instance, when I buy a whole filet of fish, about 1½ pounds, I’ll cut it into about four to five pieces.”

Cooking seafood successfully also begins with fish fillets or shellfish that look glossy, firm with no discoloration and smell fresh like the sea, Bennett says. “If the fish wasn’t frozen properly, thawed properly or has been sitting in the fish counter too long, chances are it won’t make for a successful and tasty seafood meal.”

When buying frozen fish, Bennett says to look for fish that is labeled FAS or Frozen at Sea, which indicates the fish was caught, processed and frozen on the same boat. Another option is IQF or Individually Quick Frozen. Be sure to inspect frozen fish for any freezer burn or ice crystals, she says.

Adding Flavor to Fish

Bennett offers several ways to prepare simple, tasty seafood at home:

  • Be creative with toppings for fish fillets. Prepared salsa, pesto, chutney, tapenade, Thai chili sauce, sweet barbecue sauce, seafood rubs and seasonings make great additions to seafood. “These are all delicious and fuss-free pairings for most seafood. I keep a few on hand for quick weeknight seafood meals,” says Bennett.
  • Keep jams or marmalades in your pantry along with a spicy condiment to top fish. One idea Bennett suggests is to combine strawberry jam with a smidgen of harissa or Asian garlic chili sauce and then pour it over fish filets. Bake at 400 degrees Fahrenheit until done and serve with rice and salad or braised greens.
  • Make compound butters. Keep them in the refrigerator or freezer to top roasted, baked, steamed or grilled fish. Compound butter is softened butter mixed with a few ingredients that are savory or sweet. “A few combinations I like best are minced garlic, ginger and green onion; orange zest, minced ginger and chopped blueberries; fresh chopped herbs, lemon zest and minced shallot,” says Bennett.
  • Try Boursin cheese for another easy topping on warm roasted, grilled or baked fish. “I keep a box in my cheese drawer for quick weeknight fish dinners,” says Bennett.
  • Use any leftover fish you have to make fish cakes and serve with tartar sauce. Fish cakes are as easy as shredding the fish, adding a little panko, mayonnaise, seasoning, aromatics like minced green onion or shallot, and a dash of hot sauce. Form patties and pan cook.

For more seafood recipes, including tips for beginners and creative ways to get kids to eat more seafood, visit seafoodnutrition.org.

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Bernard Greenhall
Bernard Greenhall

Bernard is a sports and physical education expert with years of experience. He's passionate about promoting health and wellness through physical activity, and he's worked with athletes and non-athletes alike to help them achieve their fitness goals. Bernard holds a degree in Physical Education and is dedicated to staying up-to-date with the latest trends and research in his field.

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