Pound for pound, fish and seafood are as good and healthy as it gets TIPPING THE SCALES

October 26, 1994|By Karol V. Menzie | Karol V. Menzie,Staff Writer

It's time to get in the swim of things -- with fashionable, flavorful, positively good-for-you fish.

There are plenty of reasons for putting fish and seafood on your family menu. Not only has technology made it easier for fish to be sped fresh to destinations all over the world and easier for popular varieties to be farmed successfully, but also an increasing body of scientific study backs fish as part of everybody's game plan for good health.

"I've been a health and science writer for 30 years, and in 30 years I don't think I have seen any food stuff come along with such potential for promoting health as seafood," says Jane Brody, cookbook author and New York Times columnist, who's become a proponent for fish with the publication of her latest book, "Jane Brody's Good Seafood Book."

"This was the only animal protein food that has ever been promoted as having a positive health benefit -- not just a source of nutrients that we need to live on, but that actually can help protect us against our leading killer, which is heart disease," says Ms. Brody, who was in town recently to promote her book. There is also evidence from recent studies that suggests eating fish can help ease symptoms of arthritis and halt the spread of cancer.

(Even a watchdog group, the Center for Science in the Public Interest, gave its imprimatur to restaurant fish and seafood. In a study released last week, restaurant fish and seafood were called a "great catch" for a low-fat meal.)

One study done in the Netherlands showed that people who consumed two meals of fish or seafood a week had 50 percent lower coronary rates than non-fish eaters, Ms. Brody says. "We ++ already had evidence that the natural fish oils help to prevent the blood from clotting, and blood clots are a major cause of heart attacks," she says.

The fish oils are such effective anticoagulants that ingesting too much of them creates the risk of bleeding: one of a number of reasons Ms. Brody says supplements are a less desirable way to consume fish oils.

But by eating two meals of fish and seafood a week -- out of 21 total meals -- people will get just enough. (Fish for breakfast? How about kippers, or lox?)

Unfortunately, "people are intimidated by the unfamiliarity" of fish, Ms. Brody says. "We all grew up knowing how to throw a steak in the broiler, or on the grill. But we didn't grow up knowing what to do with the 2,000 different kinds of fish and shellfish that are available on the American market."

She calls the resulting timidity "pescaphobia" -- fear of fish. "I was as much a victim of it as anybody else. And that's why this book was the most fun of any book that I've done. It was a great adventure. I learned so much about seafood. And I discovered how fast and how easy it was to prepare most seafood dishes."

In some cases, she started with flavors and dishes she liked, and substituted fish for meat or poultry. Pasta, pizza, kebabs, tacos, salads, casseroles and fritters are just some of the dishes fish and seafood grace in the book. All of the more than 200 recipes are low-fat.

Of course, Marylanders already know that fish and seafood are delicious elements in any meal. Baltimorean Gloria Bass has just published "The Seafood Lovers Cookbook," highlighting local favorites. Ms. Bass, who is a computer specialist with the Social Security Administration, is an avid cook who's taken classes at Baltimore International Culinary College.

"My friends were always asking, 'Do you have a recipe for crab imperial, or for crab balls?' " she says.

So she began to collect her "best" recipes and the book is the result. Among local favorites are Back River Neck steamed clams, Bay Lady shrimp salad, and the Water Street Exchange scallop casserole.

Seafood has a big advantage for today's busy cooks, Ms. Bass notes: "Compared with beef or chicken, it doesn't take a long time to cook." It's also versatile: "If you get a basic recipe, you can mold it to what you want it to be in terms of spiciness or not, and so on."

Ms. Brody also notes: "Fish comes out very well when it's cooked in the microwave. Almost everyone's got one nowadays, and they heat their coffee or leftovers, but they rarely cook in it. . . . I was one of those people who rarely cooked in the microwave. And when I started trying to do some seafood in it, I was astonished with the result because it comes out so moist. You don't even have to mess up a pot. You can cook it on the plate you eat it on."

Using a Microwave is an ideal solution for singles, she says, because you can buy one portion -- and you can prepare it in just a few minutes."

Getting children to eat fish can be a challenge, but Ms. Brody has three tips.

"Rule No. 1 is: no bones." Use fillets, or fish steaks, she suggests, and make sure they're boneless. "Then you prepare it in kid-friendly ways, maybe the catfish sticks that I make in the oven, or the oven-fried orange roughy. And you serve it with condiments that kids like, like ketchup, tartar sauce."

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