I spent one college summer working at a bustling seafood restaurant in coastal Maine. While most guests came for the mountains of fried clam strips, there were a handful of customers that would make the most out of the menu to create a better meal for themselves. This often included passing on the fried food and opting for the broiled fish filet instead. Recognizing (and silently applauding their effort) meant that I didn’t have the heart to tell them just how much butter went on that filet before it was broiled. Ultimately their “better” choice wasn’t much improved at all.
While most of us may not slather our filet in two sticks of butter before we bake it, we could be making mistakes and unintentionally using cooking methods that alter the nutritional benefit of our fish dish.
Grilling is a healthy cooking method as long we don’t char our food, which can happen when very high heat (combined with fat) creates a black coat that adheres to our proteins…including fish. The blackened char is believed to contain potentially cancer-causing chemicals that we should avoid. When cooked properly, grilled fish is healthy (and very convenient).
It’s well known that deep frying your fish (or any other food) is not a healthy cooking method. When we deep fry, cooking oil is absorbed, which adds significant fat and calories to fish. It’s interesting that this can add beneficial fats to fish if a more healthful cooking oil is used (like sunflower oil), but that’s not enough to make this a better choice when compared to other cooking methods.
Poached fish, which is defined by cooking fish in stock, wine or another liquid, enables fish to be cooked without the concern that fats may be absorbed. Poaching fish allows it to cook at a lower temperature, which preserves nutrition and avoids concerns associated with grilling or cooking it at high heat. The biggest concern with poaching is the introduction of sodium or sugar from your poaching liquid, so look for low-sodium or unsalted stock or broth and rely on things like herbs, aromatic vegetables, and whole spices to add more flavor to the poaching liquid.
Pan frying, while not as unhealthy as deep frying, can still alter the fat content of the fish and lower the omega content. That said, if healthier oils are used, such as olive oil, beneficial fats are absorbed. Another consideration is the type of pan used and limiting the amount of oil needed in the first place: a well-seasoned cast iron pan or non-stick pan make it possible to use minimal amounts of oil.
Researchers have found that baking fish can diminish the fat content a bit, but this doesn’t undo the benefit of using this cooking method. Of course, it’s the way we bake fish that can lead to problems (i.e. coated in butter or breading). That said, baking with a simple marinade or other preparation is an easy “go to” for healthy cooking.
While I’m not recommending that we microwave our fish (and neither are your coworkers), it is interesting to note that this cooking method has been found to increase the protein and fat content of fish. For people with limited time or working with a minimally equipped kitchen, there are tricks to getting a perfectly cooked fish out of a microwave.
The bottom line…
Vary your cooking method and pass on the deep-fried option except for rare occasion. Above all, fish is a nutritious protein choice that should be a regular part of your diet. These Guiding Stars recipes help you do just that.