When I was still an apprentice in Nice, once in a while on Sunday (yes, we work on Sunday in the pastry business), to thank us for our hard work, the chef would treat us with poutine.
Poutine is a term used in Nice for tiny fish, usually sardines, too small to be prepared the usual way. They are dredged in flour and quickly fried like French fries and serve hot in a newspaper cone sprinkled with sea salt and pepper. Think of them as a fish version of French fries. If you wish, you can dip them in mayonnaise, but not in Nice. There, we eat poutine as is. Sometimes, it is prepared as a beignet (fritter). Since I was the youngest apprentice, some Sundays, I was sent out on my mobylette (moped) to the fish market to buy enough for all of us. What a treat! If you ever go to Nice, go to the fish market and ask for poutine. You won’t be disappointed.
Health Benefits Of Seafood
Fish and seafood are a very good source of high-quality protein at a low-calorie cost. They are my favorite source of protein. Possibly because coming from the Mediterranean part of France, we ate more fish than meat because fish was easier and cheaper to get. You could go to the local fish market and get fish freshly caught the same morning from the nearby sea. How could you beat that? Also, because Cote d’Azur is not a meat-producing part of France, fish was always more familiar to me. I eat an average of two to three servings of fish and seafood per week. I will not cover all fish and seafood; only the ones that can help us lower our cholesterol.
As in many other food sources, fish quality depends on how and where it was caught or whether it was farmed or not. This is another subject that could become very complicated but I will try to keep it brief.
If you are living near the sea or ocean, your first choice would be to pick fish harvested locally and delivered very quickly to your fishmonger. If you’re not leaving close to the coast, I would suggest you find a local store that imports its fish daily or at least two to three times a week. In Austin, we’re lucky to have a well-known fish wholesaler that also sells to the public and always has fresh
fish available: Quality Seafood on Airport Boulevard. They supply the vast majority of seafood restaurants in town. Other good choices are Whole Foods Market and Central Market. Both of them have enough volume for you to know their fish is always fresh. If you’re not sure, be sure to ask. I always ask my fish guy what arrived that day.
When it comes to fish and seafood, one of my pet peeves is that the health regulations are not nearly as consumer-friendly as they are for meat. That is another good reason to form a good relationship with your fish person. Once you get to know each other, he’s more likely to tell you the origin of the fish you want to purchase. I hope the laws will improve in the near future; until then, educate yourself and ask a lot of questions.
Wild-Caught Salmon vs Farm-raised Salmon
Here, I will make the same argument I did with meat. I’m going to use salmon as an example but the same reasoning applies to all edible fish. If you have the choice, go for wild, line-caught salmon first. I know it is more expensive, but I’d rather you eat 3-4 ounces of great fresh Alaskan salmon
than 8 ounces of farm-raised salmon. For one thing, when eaten in season (yes, there is a season for catching salmon) nothing compares to fresh salmon in flavor, consistency, and nutritional value.
On the nutritional side, they are 2 major reasons to choose wild salmon over farmed salmon. The first is that they are loaded with omega-3 fatty acids. And, if you remember my previous explanations on why omega-3 fatty acids are good for you, you already know they are extremely beneficial for your heart and brain health as well as increase your HDL (good) cholesterol.
The other is that salmon, like some crustaceans (crayfish, shrimp, lobster) are loaded with a powerful antioxidant called astaxanthin. It’s a recently discovered antioxidant in the same family as beta-carotene and lutein. The red-orange pigment color wild salmon’s flesh comes from eating krill, a tiny form of shrimp found in the ocean. They are loaded with this newly-discovered antioxidant. Some studies suggest that it is 100 times more effective as an antioxidant than vitamin E.
Wow! Doesn’t that make you want to eat fresh salmon everyday?
As you may remember, antioxidants are needed to avoid the damage caused by the creation of free radicals. So the more antioxidants we eat, the healthier we will be. And fresh, wild-caught salmon is loaded with them.
If you’re concerned with salmon’s mercury content, salmon are too small to be contaminated with mercury when fished in season. They are not on the top of the food chain, so they do not accumulate this poisonous metal in their flesh. If you’re pregnant or feeding a small child, you may want to be cautious, but for the vast majority of adults, two servings of fish per week are perfectly safe for you.
As it is in the factory farms, so it is in fish farming. Their methods of raising fish are not a whole lot better for your health than feedlot methods are. Salmon (and catfish as well) are crowded in enclosures called netpens, which creates a potential for diseases to spread. So, the fish feed contains antibiotics to prevent that from happening.
Since farmed salmon do not have the opportunity to eat their favorite food, krill, they are fed with artificially colored food pellets. If you pay attention at your fish market, you can tell farmed salmon from fresh as they have a weird, bright orange color.
Another thing you need to know is that farmed salmon are fed a grain diet, mostly made out of good old corn. Well, you already know the consequences of that. Salmon are carnivores. They eat other small fish to survive. That, in turn, will give them all the healthy attributes of a high amount of omega-3 fatty acids and the antioxidant called astaxanthin I mentioned before. What happens when they eat a grain diet is that their flesh now contains omega-6 fatty acids which are known to be oxidative and
inflammatory to our body. So, not only you do not get the benefit of antioxidants, but also you are served an extra dose of inflammatory compounds.
If that wasn’t bad enough, studies conducted by an independent group called the Environmental Working Group found that out of ten farm-raised salmon bought a grocery stores, seven were laced with a dangerous toxin: polychlorinated biphenils otherwise better known as PCBs.
Since fish farms are located on or close to the coast, they are unfortunately polluted by toxic runoffs from rivers running into the ocean. To give you a comparison, farmed salmon contain sixteen times the amount of PCBs than in wild salmon. Doesn’t that make you think twice about eating farmed salmon?
As I mentioned earlier, I have developed a good relationship with my fish person and he keeps me updated on what’s fresh that day. I buy small servings (4 ounces). Actually, in the beginning, my fish guy would tease me and ask me if I was buying fish for my cat. I laughed then told him I was on a special diet and left it at that. Now, when he sees me, he knows 1/4 pound of fish is all I need.
I typically prepare my fish very simply and use short cooking times to preserve the unique flavor and health qualities of the fish I eat. I do not prepare complicated dishes because of the fact that I work in a kitchen all day long and don’t have the energy to start all over when I get home. So I
will give you quick and simple recipes for you to enjoy. Bon Appétit!
See my recipe for Quick And Easy Salmon Fillet