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ALL ABOUT FOOD:Get schooled to pick a healthy fish

Fish 101. After writing about the difficulties that La Sirena faced in going “green,” we were curious to learn the most current information about fish from the point of view of ecology as well as healthy eating.

We have written about the health issues surrounding the consumption of fish. It’s not a simple subject. We know fish is good for us, but new issues have arisen because of the pollution of the waters and the unhealthful practices of some of the fish-farming industry.

To make fish decisions a bit less formidable, we have compiled a fish list: hardly complete, but focusing on fish that appear on the menus in Laguna restaurants.

The list is divided into good fish and bad fish. Good fish are both safe to eat and fished or farmed in an environmentally sound manner, but good fish high in mercury can only be eaten once a week. Some fish are on the bad list simply because they’re endangered.



AHI: U.S., Atlantic and Hawaiian (high in mercury)

BARRIMUNDI: farmed in an environmentally sound manner, fast growing, high in Omega 3s

BLACK COD: wild caught


CATFISH: U. S. farmed raised only, ecologically responsible and sustainable, fed a primarily vegetarian diet

HALIBUT: California, wild caught

MAHI MAHI: Atlantic and Hawaiian


SALMON: wild caught

SHARK: Mako and Thresher only

SOLE: Dover and Petrale

STRIPED BASS: U.S. farmed or U.S. wild caught


STURGEON: U.S. farmed

SWORDFISH: Hawaiian, U.S., Canada - wild caught (high in mercury)

TROUT: U.S. farmed

WAHOO (ONO): wild caught

WHITE SEA BASS: U.S. Pacific Ocean and Mexico

YELLOWTAIL: U.S. wild caught


CHILEAN SEA BASS: fishing method kills sea birds, 50% are caught illegally, slow growing and over fished


MONKFISH: Over fished, fishing methods kill other species

OPAH: high levels of mercury

ORANGE ROUGHY: doesn’t reproduce until twenty years of age, high levels of mercury

RED SNAPPER: over fished and trawl caught

SALMON: Atlantic and farm raised Chinook, unhealthful farming practices

SKATE: in deep decline, fishing method causes habitat damage

STURGEON: imported, especially Russian, population has severely decreased

SWORDFISH: imported, bad fishing methods

TILAPIA: imported from China and Taiwan, pollution

TUNA: Bluefin, highly over-fished

So armed with our environmentally correct and healthful decisions about which fish to buy, here are some tips on what to look for when buying it.

Freshness is easiest to determine by checking the gills of a whole fishIf they are red, the fish is fresh, if they are gray, forget about it. Also, pick ones with bright protruding eyes and firm flesh. For fillets, the criteria are more subtle.

Only buy fish that came in the day you are buying it. Look for a fish that is glistening, with a lot of moisture on the surface.

Now decide how to cook it. Fish can be steamed, poached, deep-fried, pan fried, baked, broiled or barbecued. Not all fish is suitable for all methods but some can be cooked in several different ways.

We’ll focus on the most popular fish in our area: salmon, halibut and ahi and the two easiest and most versatile methods of cooking them: baking and pan-frying.

Ahi is best served rare, pan-fried. Try dipping it in teriyaki sauce, then coating it with fresh ground black pepper and sesame seeds. Sauté it on high heat in a tablespoon of oil for a minute or two on each side. Salmon can be prepared either way. For a pound of salmon, mix together a tablespoon or two of Asian style sweet chili sauce with a tablespoon of soy sauce and 1/3 cup of fresh orange juice and some zest if you have it. Pour the sauce over lightly salted and peppered salmon in a baking dish just large enough to accommodate the fish and bake at 375° for 18 minutes or so, depending on the thickness of the fish.

Halibut is the most delicate and is probably best baked. Try a sauce of ½ cup white wine, juice of ½ a lemon, 10 fresh cut cherry tomatoes, minced garlic or shallots and some Kalamata olives. Salt and pepper the fish, pour the sauce over it in the baking dish and drizzle with olive oil.

How do we know when the fish is done? Check the thickest part of the fish for translucency; it should be opaque. For fillets, press the flesh; it will be firm when cooked through. For a whole fish, tug the dorsal fin (on the fish’s back); it will come off easily when done.

  • ELLE HARROW and TERRY MARKOWITZ owned A La Carte for 20 years. They can be reached for comments or questions at

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