Healthy Catch

Times Staff Writer

The long wait, almost two hours, to finally get seated at a table at bustling Old Original Bookbinder's Restaurant recently in Philadelphia proved one of two things (or both): The place has maintained its popularity because of its historic ambiance, or there's a burgeoning craze for dining out on fish and seafood.

The first reason is not surprising. Since 1865, when Samuel Bookbinder established the restaurant by the dock and took advantage of just-caught fish from surrounding coasts, the freshness of its seafood has attracted sea captains, nearby diners and now tourists from all over as well as regulars.

The second reason is legitimate, positive and healthy. From coast to coast, Americans are getting more and more hooked on fish. Go to a Chinese seafood restaurant and you'll find not only Chinese locals but Americans ordering a platter of clams or whole fish. And, of course, the same story goes for soaring sushi bars.

Recent surveys indicate that fish has topped red meats and poultry in the total volume of food served in restaurants. The Hungry Tiger, for instance, serves a volume of 40,000 pounds of fresh seafood per week in its 18 restaurants in Southern California. Quite an enormous amount for a restaurant noted for serving steaks as well as affordable seafood.

Indeed, everyone is taking fish more seriously nowadays . . . now that medical sleuths are proving that Eskimos and Japanese who eat large amounts of fish have low mortality rates from heart disease. A recent article published in the New England Journal of Medicine described a 20-year study which tracked 872 men between ages 40 and 59 in the Netherlands. The Dutch researchers found that the mortality rate from coronary heart disease for those who consumed at least 30 grams (about one ounce) of fish per day was more than 50% lower than among those who ate no fish. The study concluded that "the consumption of as little as one or two fish dishes per week may be of preventive value in relation to coronary heart disease."

In another study, it was observed that fish and fish oils that contain omega-3 acids (a class of fatty acids whose first unsaturated bond occurs between the third and fourth carbon) can lower levels of cholesterol and triglycerides, the risk factors in heart disease. The omega-3s are present in the highest levels in cold-water fish, being a sort of natural antifreeze that won't harden even at extremely low temperatures. Fattier fish contains more omega-3s, and heading the list are salmon (canned and fresh), Atlantic mackerel, American eel, sablefish, Atlantic herring, Norwegian sardines, rainbow trout, whitefish, Pacific oyster and squid.

Another reason for choosing fish when eating out is that the average consumer still does not cook as much fish at home. While other countries are eating most fish species found in their waters, the American fish buyer has to investigate each one first. However, a recent Better Homes and Gardens consumer survey concluded that 48.7% of consumers are serving more seafood than they were two years ago, 34.9% the same and 14.3% less.

Like the consumer, restaurateurs and fishmongers continue to study fish as more and more new species enter the market. "In supermarkets, where fish selling has been relegated to meat people, the educational process is needed to be able to impart better consumer information," said Larry Levine, education director of Lee and Associates Inc., the agency representing California Fisheries Assn. During the Los Angeles Sea Fare '85, held a few months ago, seafood buyers and restaurateurs were exposed to more seafood species, new products and more fish education seminars.

One of the speakers at the event was Odette Berry, owner-chef of Another Season, a fine seafood restaurant in Boston. Equipped with her restaurant experience and culinary background at London's Cordon Bleu and Maxim's Academy in Paris, Berry demonstrated some fish cooking techniques and innovative dishes in small-size servings for restaurant chefs. In stressing freshness and quality of the seafood dish, she said: "There's nothing more disheartening than finding food left on the plate. Be careful to buy fresh fish for customer satisfaction."

In giving a shopping tip to the home cook, Berry, who doesn't care for frozen fish, suggested, "If you're planning your shopping, let's say for three days or more, use the fish the first night for better quality."

Among her recipes, on the easy side is the Red Snapper garnished with Chinese pea pods. Ginger, a favorite seasoning with fish to remove fishy scents, makes a nice team with lime and cilantro in enhancing the fish flavor. Berry loves to use citrus with fish. "I love orange zest, but be careful to avoid the white part of the peel as it's bitter," she said.

A touch of orange peel and lemon juice in Poached Salmon Celeste makes the dish memorable. In her Baked Stuffed Fish, Berry advises to rub a little salt into the bloody parts of the fish to remove any bitter flavor and dissolve the blood. Pouring hot olive oil over the fish before baking flavors and crisps the skin.

Overcooking is the killer word in fish preparation. Often fish continues to cook even after removing it from the heat so be careful to remove it just on the verge of doneness. The Terrine of Seafood, layers of pink salmon and white sole separated with greens from parsley and dill, is a tender and light mousse-type affair, complemented with the richness of Beurre Blanc Sauce, a buttery wine sauce.

The basis of many fish recipes is a good fish stock that can be made from inexpensive fish bones from a reputable fish market. Simmered with fresh vegetables, the stock can be strained and used for sauces and seafood stews. Following are Berry's fish recipes. A related story on Page 20 discusses some trends with fish, what's new and what's to come in the fish market.

RED SNAPPER

WITH CHINESE PEA PODS

4 stalks green onions

1/4 cup unsalted butter

1 tablespoon grated ginger root

2 tomatoes, peeled, sliced and seeded

1 1/2 pounds red snapper fillets, sliced into 3-inch pieces

Salt, pepper

1/2 loosely packed cilantro leaves

1/2 pound Chinese pea pods, steamed

1 lime, cut in wedges

Remove coarse outer skin from green onions and diagonally slice, including 1 inch of green tops. Melt butter in large skillet. Add green onions and ginger and toss 2 minutes on high heat. Add tomatoes and stir-fry 1 minute on high heat. Add fish. Cover and braise until snapper is cooked, about 5 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Remove fish and arrange in center of serving platter. Keep warm. Reduce sauce on high heat, about 10 minutes, and adjust salt and pepper to taste. Remove from heat and add cilantro. Spoon over fish. Surround with hot Chinese pea pods and serve with lime wedges. Makes 4 to 6 servings.

FISH STOCK

3 pounds fish bones, without heads

2 tablespoons butter

1 onion, peeled and thinly sliced

3 stalks celery, sliced

Few sprigs parsley

3 whole peppercorns

1/2 bay leaf

Dash mace

Remove all bloody parts from fish bones for clearer stock. Melt butter in large stainless steel or enamel pot over medium heat. Add onion and celery, gently sauteing until tender. Do not brown. Add bones, parsley, peppercorns, bay leaf, mace and enough cold water to cover bones. Bring to boil and boil 5 minutes. Skim off residue at top and turn down heat. Cover and simmer gently 40 minutes. Remove bones and strain stock through clean cheesecloth. Makes about 4 quarts.

POACHED SALMON CELESTE

1 cup fish stock

4 (8-ounce) pieces salmon steaks

1 to 2 tablespoons lemon juice

3 tablespoons Madeira

2 tablespoons butter, softened

2 teaspoons grated orange peel

1/2 cup creme fraiche (or use 1 cup whipping cream reduced to 1/2 cup)

Salt, optional

Orange and lemon slices and watercress

Place fish stock in enamel or stainless steel pan and reduce to about half. Set aside.

Bone, skin and trim salmon steaks. Make medallions by shaping fish into circle. Secure each with oiled wood picks. Place lemon juice to taste, Madeira and fish stock in pan with butter and heat until warm. Add salmon medallions and gently poach 7 to 10 minutes or until just cooked. (Do not overcook as fish continues to cook upon standing.) Remove fish from liquid and keep warm.

Turn up heat and add orange peel. Reduce liquid to 1/4 cup. Add creme fraiche and continue to reduce until sauce has light syrupy consistency. Season to taste with salt.

Arrange salmon medallions on platter and spoon over sauce. Garnish with orange and lemon slices and watercress. Makes 4 servings.

Variations: Stuff salmon steaks with vegetable mousse or puree in center or a little sauteed shiitake, shrimp or crawfish. Or surround or cover with finely julienned leeks and carrots, steamed or sauteed. Or wrap medallions in lettuce leaves and steam in Chinese steamer.

TERRINE OF SEAFOOD

1 pound salmon fillets

Salt

4 egg whites

1 pound gray sole fillets

1 tablespoon lemon juice

1 1/2 to 2 cups whipping cream, chilled

Butter

2 tablespoons finely chopped parsley

2 tablespoons chopped dill

Freshly ground white pepper

Beurre Blanc Sauce

Remove all bones and bits of skin from salmon. Puree salmon with 1/4 teaspoon salt and 2 egg whites in food processor until very smooth and gelatinous. Place salmon in metal bowl and chill in freezer 20 minutes.

Repeat procedure with sole, pureeing with 1/4 teaspoon salt and remaining 2 egg whites. Chill in freezer 20 minutes.

Place salmon in mixer bowl. On high speed, slowly beat in 3/4 to 1 cup whipping cream until consistency of soft ice cream. Remove any noticeable fish fibers. Cook 1 tablespoon mixture in boiling water and taste to check and adjust seasoning. Chill 10 minutes.

Repeat beating procedure with sole, using 3/4 to 1 cup whipping cream. Chill 10 minutes.

Butter 1 (9x4-inch) glass baking dish and line with parchment paper. Butter parchment paper. Spread 1/2 of sole mixture on bottom. Sprinkle with 1 tablespoon parsley and 1 tablespoon dill. Spread with salmon mixture and sprinkle with remaining parsley and dill. Cover with remaining sole mixture.

Cover with buttered parchment paper, buttered side down, then cover with foil. Place loaf dish in larger pan and pour in hot water to come 2/3 up sides of mold. Bake at 350 degrees 45 minutes to 1 hour or until internal temperature of terrine is 140 degrees. Remove from pan and let stand 5 to 10 minutes. Remove foil and parchment and turn out onto platter. Cut into 10 slices and surround with Beurre Blanc Sauce. Garnish with dill. Makes 10 servings.

Note: Layering may be increased, if desired, by spreading 1/3 of sole mixture on bottom. Sprinkle with parsley and dill, then spread 1/3 of salmon mixture. Continue layering mixtures 1/3 at time, sprinkling with parsley and dill between each layer.

Beurre Blanc Sauce

1/2 to 3/4 pound unsalted butter

1/2 cup finely sliced shallots

1/2 cup strong fish stock

1/2 cup white wine

1/2 cup herb vinegar or 1/4 cup lemon juice

Cut butter in small pieces and leave at room temperature to soften. Place shallots, fish stock, white wine and vinegar in 2-quart heavy stainless steel saucepan and boil on high heat until liquid is reduced to about 2 tablespoons.

Turn down heat to very low and slowly beat in butter, 1 tablespoon at a time. Continue to stir over low heat until temperature reaches 170 degrees. Strain through sieve. Keep sauce in warm place until ready to serve. (It is best that sauce not be made more than 1 hour before serving since it can separate.)

BAKED STUFFED FISH

1 (3- to 4-pound) whole fish

Salt

Vegetable Stuffing

1 lemon, thinly sliced

2 cloves garlic, finely sliced

2 tablespoons olive oil, about

Thyme sprigs, optional

Clean cavity of fish by rubbing a little salt into bloody parts (to dissolve blood and avoid bitter flavor). Remove gills on sides. Wash fish with cold water and pat dry. Stuff cavity with Vegetable Stuffing and close cavities with oiled wood picks.

Place fish on oiled baking sheet and cut 7 (1-inch) slashes across fish. Stud slashes with lemon and garlic slices. Cover tail with greased piece of foil to prevent overbrowning.

Heat olive oil until very hot but not smoking. Pour oil over fish (to flavor and crisp skin). Bake fish at 400 degrees 40 to 50 minutes or until reaches internal temperature of 170 degrees. Sprinkle with salt to taste. Serve garnished with thyme sprigs. Makes 4 to 6 servings.

Vegetable Stuffing

2 leeks, finely sliced

Olive oil

2 slices pancetta (Italian smoked bacon), bacon or salt pork (rinsed few times), finely diced

1 carrot, peeled and shredded

2 tablespoons chopped fresh thyme

1 cup chopped parsley

Salt, freshly ground pepper

Wash leeks well and drain. Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil and saute pancetta in heavy pan until lightly golden. Stir in leeks and carrots and saute until tender. Cool mixture. Add thyme and parsley and season to taste with salt and pepper.

Variation: Fish may be baked on bed of assorted cut up vegetables or shaved unpeeled new potatoes. For stuffing, use celery, mushrooms and vine-ripened tomatoes or sliced fennel bud, or other vegetables in season.

SEAFOOD STEW PROVENCAL

3 tablespoons olive oil

1 onion, finely diced

4 tomatoes, peeled and seeded, finely chopped

Grated peel of 1/2 orange

1 bud fresh fennel, finely diced, or 1 teaspoon coarsely ground dried fennel

4 cups fish stock

1 pound whole shrimp

1 pound haddock (or other fish), skinned and cut into 1-inch pieces

Salt, pepper

Lemon juice, optional

1/2 cup freshly chopped parsley or 1/2 cup freshly chopped basil

Heat olive oil in soup pot. Add onion and saute until tender. Add tomatoes, orange peel, fennel and fish stock. Cover and simmer gently 30 to 40 minutes.

Add shrimp and simmer 2 minutes or just until pink color disappears. Remove shrimp and peel and devein. Add fish to stew and simmer gently 5 to 10 minutes. Add shrimp. Season to taste with salt, pepper and lemon juice. Sprinkle with parsley or basil. Makes 6 to 8 servings.

Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World
61°