The Great Fish Cook-Off

Skip the deep-fry fat, keep the fresh fish flavor

By Elaine Magee, MPH, RD
WebMD Weight Loss Clinic - Expert Column

Although I relish the crispy crumb and moist interior of fried fish fillets just as much as the next person, it pains me to see something so innately healthful be transformed within minutes to high-calorie, high-fat food fare. Some may think frying fish is the only way to cook fish. I'm here to help you think outside the "deep fryer" box.

Grilling Your Fish

This is perhaps the tastiest way to cook fish. The first key here is to keep as much of the moisture of the fish inside it as it cooks. Coating the fish lightly with oil will help seal some of this moisture inside. If you choose a smart oil like canola oil or olive oil with high amounts of the preferred monounsaturated fats and desirable plant omega-3s (canola oil), and you don't drench the fish with the oil, this will add around 1.1 grams of fat and 10 calories per serving (when using about 1/4 teaspoon oil per 5-ounce raw fillet).

The second key to grilling fish is to watch it carefully (since it is very vulnerable to drying out). Remember most fish on the grill only takes a few minutes per side. Flip the fillets over the second you cut into the fish and it is cooked half way through. Continue to watch the fish closely and take the fish off the grill as soon as it is cooked throughout or preferably slightly before because the fish will continue to cook after you remove it from the heat.

Wrap your fish serving in aluminum foil and place it on the grill. The fish will marinate in its own moisture as it cooks. You can add seasonings like fresh garlic, fresh rosemary or basil, freshly ground pepper, garden tomatoes, white wine, orange or lemon peel to create a subtly flavored fish dish.

Broiling Your Fish

Broiling is basically grilling in the oven. You are still cooking your fish at a high temperature with a direct heat source. You can still use a sauce or marinade with the fish but this time the sauce won't fall through the grill and hit the coals below. My favorite way to broil fish is to line a shallow baking pan with thick foil and coat it with canola cooking spray before adding my fish or sauce. Clean up is a snap this way.

Baking Your Fish

This is the antithesis to grilling where you need to lovingly watch your fish carefully for the ten or so minutes it is over the hot grill. Baking fish is more of a toss-and-go setup. Prepare the cooking sauce or coating (because you don't want to bake your fish dry) while you preheat the oven. Then pop the fish dish into the oven following the recipe instructions for cooking times (so you don't overcook it).

The tricky part can be if your fish isn't the same size or thickness as is called for in the recipe you are following; a thin fish fillet will cook more quickly and a thicker one will generally take longer to cook.

Fish Fact

Fish begin to deteriorate as soon as they are farmed from the water, so either find the freshest fish possible or buy it frozen so you know how long it has been thawed. If it has a strong fishy smell it is not a good sign. Fresh fish has a sweet, briny scent (like the ocean it came from). If there is browning or discoloration on the fish it is also not a good sign.

Fish Purchase Tip

Shop for your fish at a busy fish counter. This way your fish is more likely to be fresh. If the fish you are about to purchase was previously frozen and is now thawed it should be used the day you purchase the fish. And it should not be refrozen. In fact it is preferable to cook all fish the day you buy it. If you have to keep it for a day more, make sure to keep it well sealed and in the coldest part of your refrigerator.

Journal as: 1 serving moderate-fat meat without added fat

When I want to fix salmon fast, this is one of the recipes I tend to grab. It takes five minutes to put together and 10 minutes to broil the salmon! And it tastes terrific -- can't get much better than that.

1 pound salmon fillet
Canola cooking spray
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/8-1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper (depending on preference)
1/4-1/2 teaspoon garlic powder (depending on preference)
1/2 teaspoon dill weed

Lemon Caper Sauce
1/2 cup fat-free or light sour cream
1 tablespoon drained capers
2 teaspoons lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon finely chopped lemon zest or peel (optional)

  • Preheat broiler. Line a 9-inch round pan or dish with foil. Coat the foil with canola cooking spray.
  • Rinse and dry salmon fillet well. Place the salmon skin-side down in the prepared pan.
  • Coat the top of the salmon fillet (flesh side) with canola cooking spray.
  • Sprinkle salt and pepper evenly over the top of salmon. Then sprinkle garlic powder and dill weed evenly over the top of salmon. Place under broiler (about 6 inches from the heat) for five minutes. Flip salmon over (skin-side up now) and broil five minutes longer. Check the thickest part of the salmon to test if it is done.
  • Peel off the skin (it comes off easily) and throw away. Serve the salmon seasoned-side up (spoon any juices and seasoning in the bottom of the pan over the top of the salmon).
  • While the salmon is broiling, add sour cream, capers and lemon juice (lemon zest if desired) in small food processor and pulse about five seconds to blend well. If you don't have a food processor finely chop the capers and blend the capers, lemon juice and sour cream together well in a small serving bowl.

Makes 4 servings

Per serving: 191 calories, 24 grams protein, 5 grams carbohydrate, 7.5 grams fat, 1.4 grams saturated fat, 65 milligrams cholesterol, 0.1 grams fiber, 206 milligrams sodium. Calories from fat: 36%.

Margi's Tortellini & Shrimp Saute

Journal as: 1 serving of lean meat with 1 teaspoon fat + 1/2 cup "starchy foods and legumes without added fat"

This recipe was inspired by WLC member Margi402.

About 9.5 ounces (half of a 19-ounce bag) frozen or fresh tortellini (choose types with around 5 grams of fat or less per 1 1/3 cup serving)
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 and 1/2 cups coarsely chopped sweet onion
1 tablespoon minced garlic
About 3 cups cooked large shrimp (15 ounces)
2 cups cherry tomato halves
1 cup coarsely chopped fresh basil, loosely packed
Salt and pepper to taste (optional)

  • Start boiling water four inches deep in a large saucepan. When boiling, add tortellini and follow directions on package to cook the tortellini. When they are just tender, drain them in a colander.
  • While tortellini is boiling, heat the olive oil in a large, nonstick frying pan over medium-high heat. When hot, add the onions and saute for about 4 minutes. Stir in the minced garlic and saute a couple of minutes more. Stir in the shrimp and the cherry tomatoes and saute two minutes, stirring often. Add in the fresh basil and cooked (drained) tortellini and saute a minute more.
  • Add salt and pepper to taste (if desired)

Makes 4 servings

Per serving (using Rosetto frozen cheese tortellini): 360 calories, 31.5 grams protein, 34.5 grams carbohydrate, 10.5 grams fat, 2.3 grams saturated fat, 230 milligrams cholesterol, 3.5 grams fiber, 434 milligrams sodium. Calories from fat: 27%.

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