Fish in cooking pan

Smarter seafood dining part 1

In Diet, Nutrition and Recipes, Health and Nutrition by Mike PenningLeave a Comment

There are plenty of stronger flavoured, darker-fleshed and oilier fish species available in Australia that are often unduly and sadly perceived by many as second rate, compared to the blander, white-fleshed fish species.

This limitation not only shrinks your seafood choices, but also the extra price that Australian ‘top shelf’ white fish often carry, can also hurt the hip pocket. And, if you buy cheaper, imported white fleshed fish to get around the extra expense then you could be buying fish with questionable, vague histories, riskier as well as environmentally damaging, e.g., sourced from second rate overseas aquaculture systems or overfished unsustainable fisheries, not mention extra food miles incurred by long travelled and artificially cold stored foods.

As we see cheaper imported seafood enter our market place and the price of Australian seafood rising, a review of how we use seafood in our diets is prudent. With the right approach, it is still possible to eat more nutritious, fresh Australian seafood at a reasonable cost.

Health benefits of eating fish

Fish is low in fat, high in protein and an excellent source of omega 3 fatty acids. Regular consumption of fish can reduce the risk of various diseases and disorders. Selected research findings include :

Asthma – children who eat fish may be less likely to develop asthma

Brain and eyes – fish rich in omega 3 fatty acids can contribute to the health of brain tissue and the retina Cardiovascular disease – eating fish every week reduces the risk of heart disease and stroke by reducing blood clots and inflammation, improving blood vessel elasticity, lowering blood pressure, lowering blood fats and boosting ‘good’ cholesterol.

Dementia – elderly people who eat fish or seafood at least once a week may have a lower risk of developing dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease.

Depression – people who regularly eat fish have a lower incidence of depression (depression is linked to low levels of omega 3 fatty acids in the brain).

Diabetes – fish may help people with diabetes manage their blood sugar levels.

Eyesight – breastfed babies of mothers who eat fish have better eyesight, perhaps due to the omega 3 fatty acids transmitted in breast milk.

Inflammatory conditions – regular fish consumption may relieve the symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis, psoriasis and autoimmune disease.

Prematurity – eating fish during pregnancy may help reduce the risk of delivering a premature baby

Compared to other sources, seafood contain very high levels of top quality Essential Fatty Acids (EFAs) which include omega 3 and 6 EFAs. Moreover, the ratio of omega 3 to omega 6 (1:1) found in seafood is better utilised by the body compared to other sources of omega fatty acids. It is believed humans have evolved to this ratio throughout the ages of human seafood consumption. Modern western diets tend to provide too much omega 6 and not enough omega 3 with long term health issues being suspect as a consequence of this ratio imbalance

Controversy over the effectiveness of man-made, synthesised omega 3 compared to natural sources of omega 3 is also out there. There also seem to be some negative side affects emerging with the long term use of daily fish oil supplements. Everything in moderation and in its natural form seems a wiser option.

There is strong evidence that eating good amounts of seafood combined with in a well balanced vegan diet (also known as pescetarianism) is one of the healthiest on offer and associated with the longest living, ancient cultures still in existence today.

Where do fish oils (EFAs omega 3 and omega 6) come from?

Generally, those stronger flavoured, darker-fleshed and oiler fish contain higher levels of fish oils compared to the white-fleshed fish species because they store fish oils in their flesh. White fish, on the other hand, store fish oils predominantly in their livers. For instance, Cod is a white-fleshed fish from which cod liver oil is extracted. Sardines, anchovies, pilchards, mackerel, Australian salmon, salmon trout, snook, Tommy Ruffs and mullet as well as the more socially accepted Atlantic salmon, tuna and kingfish all contain better amounts of omegas in their flesh than white fish.

The price of eating fish and EFA’s

Fresh fish ‘fillets’ can range from $12 to $50 per kg, and for whole fish from about $5 to $25 per kg. The stronger-tasting, darker-fleshed, oilier fish are often a 1/3rd of the price of the white fish so, coupled with containing more EFS’s, that’s three times extra seafood you can afford to eat or 2/3rds more disposable cash to spend on other things. That makes sound sense and a worthy trade off.

The trick for those who prefer white fish but would like to consider stronger fish in their diets is in choosing the right recipes. These will make cheaper, stronger-tasting, darker-fleshed and oilier fish the sort of dish to look forward to. Healthier, low-fat ways to cook fish include baked, poached, grilled and steamed.

Essential fish flavour

White-fleshed blander fish are often eaten by themselves without much thought given to flavour additions or applying recipe to them. However, many iconic and well-loved recipes rely on anchovies and fish sauces to impart that something special that keeps you coming back for more.

It is safe to say that the widely loved Caesar salad and the classic English Worcestershire sauce could have been lost had it not been for the addition of anchovies to make their distinctive flavour profiles. Thai, Vietnamese, Chinese and Indonesian cookery also rely extensively on the addition of fish flavours to make them so special – often using copious amounts fish sauce, oyster sauce or shrimp paste in recipes, even though you can’t actually detect any fishy taste amongst the symphony of all the other flavours used in these cultural recipes.

While many, particularly of Mediterranean backgrounds, enjoy eating stronger tasting fish simply fried in olive oil to a crispy skin, then doused with fresh lemon juice and sea salt (yum), for many it is about adding complementary flavours and textures to stronger-tasting fish and to the next level of culinary enjoyment

Like the distinctive flavours of kangaroo, pork or lamb that improve with the addition of sweeter, tangy, spicier flavours that counteract and complement them that in turn freshen up the overall sensory enjoyment. Really, it’s all in the mix of using balanced flavour additions that make great eating out of average eating enjoyment. Stronger tasting fish with the right trimmings (flavours and textures) can uplift the entire flavour profile can create mouth magic. We could be enjoying stronger-tasting, darker-fleshed fish “fruits de mare” (fruits of the sea), if we learnt to cook them with the right recipes.

For parents, it’s an ideal opportunity to enjoy nutritional eating while developing broad-minded, healthy eating habits for our younger generation.

Yummy, crispy fish skin

Another eating pleasure with many of these stronger-tasting fish is in the way you cook their skin. When well fried and cooked on a flat plate, the skin will crisp just like pork crackling, further adding great flavour and texture. You see this done on many English cooking shows with Sea Bass, served skin-up, then placed on a bed of something or other. The classic Cajon dish of ‘blackened fish’ takes this crispy skin cooking technique to the extreme by placing a whole fish or fillet skin-down into a very hot pan of smoking butter. It’s a dramatic flambé cooking technique that caramelises and crisps the skin while burning the butter.

Complementing fishy recipes

Recently working in Samtass Seafoods at the Central Market in Adelaide, carrying out in-store cooking demos and tastings while providing recipe cards, I saw the effect of how the right flavour and texture complementarity in recipes turns palates on.

This recipe involves fish with a salad and a complementary sauce. It has received a great response at tastings and when cooked at home. Next month I will reveal another fish and salad recipe, and a tasty one-pan fish pie. All these meals are simple enough for a meal made for yourself, yet elegant enough for a dinner party, as well as being suited to lunch or dinner. The recipe that follows is designed to use and bring out the best in stronger-flavoured, darker-fleshed and oilier fish but will still work well with white-fleshed fish, although the sauces and salads should then be served separately to avoid the stronger tastes masking the milder flavour of the white-fleshed fish.

Fish with a salad of cucumber, Greek yogurt, horseradish and dill served with a caramelised balsamic sauce

Serves 6

Sauce – caramelised balsamic

375 ml bottle of balsamic (aged red wine vinegar, Australian made is available)

2 tbls of dark brown sugar


Place both ingredients into small pot. Bring to boil reduce heat to simmer for about 20 minutes or until reduced by 1/4 to 1/3 of original volume, depending on quality of the vinegar. At this point the mixture should coat the back of a spoon lightly. Allow to cool.

Place left over dressing in fridge for other uses such as serving with salads and any other meats and vegetables.

Salad – Cucumber, Greek yogurt, horse radish and dill

1/2 kg of Lebanese cucumbers

125gm of thick plain Greek yogurt

1 tsp dry dill or 1/3 bunch roughly chopped

2 tsp horseradish fresh or from jar (Newman’s is an excellent choice)

salt to season

Combine all ingredients an hour or so before serving


6 serves of appropriate fish

Flour for dusting

Olive oil or melted butter, or combination of both

Putting it altogether

Dust fish in flour then dip or spray with olive oil or melted butter.

Fry, BBQ or grill skin-down to crisp the skin then turn to cook through.

– or –

Bake in oven at 185ºC for about 10 minutes or until cooked through.

Serve with salad and dressing. Great with crusty bread and of course your favourite wine of choice.

 More tasty fish recipes and Mike’s fish shopping tips

Mike Penning describes himself as holistic gastronomist – a hopeless food junky; a chef, gardener and gatherer, hunting for a greener and friendlier home cuisine. Mike has a diploma in hospitality management and has studied food technology, food hygiene and nutrition. He has worked in the finest restaurants and has also operated several food businesses of his own. He had a green and ethical upbringing and believes human sustainability can make it through raising self-awareness and wise lifestyle planning. Food is central to this. His hobby is photography, and he has three children.

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