Intimidated by fresh, whole seafood? Fear not!
Are you one of those people who always walks past the fish display of your supermarket with your eyes averted, not wanting to even get close to those creatures with their bug eyes, slime, scales, sharp fins, and, of course, their guts? Or perhaps you buy frozen or pre-packaged seafood because you’re not even sure what or how to order at the seafood counter. I have been there myself, but I have found a way to enjoy fresh seafood—without being too creeped out or intimidated—and I hope you can, too.
It’s summer, so let’s relax and get started. I want to share some meal ideas that are easy to prepare, tasty, and healthy—food you will likely enjoy sharing with friends.
A note to vegetarians: I so respect you for your wise choice—I’m a wannabe vegetarian myself. Maybe one day I’ll make the leap, but I’m not there yet. So, I do eat seafood. This blog discusses the cooking and eating of both fish and crabs and is likely not your best read—except for the tomato-basil salad recipe at the end.
buying fresh fish
A very easy and inexpensive seafood treat is grilled fish. Don’t be afraid of the whole fish you see at the market. Check out the porgy, bluefish, red snapper or trout. They are tasty and easy to cook. The attendant will tell you how many you’ll need for your size group.
Grilling butterflied fish
When you order your fresh fish, request that they remove the scales, head, and fins and “butterfly it,” i.e., cut it so you can open it like a book and lay it on a grill pan. At home, we season with just salt, pepper, maybe Old Bay, and as a final touch, a little minced fresh garlic and ginger. Usually we grill a small to medium fish (to serve 2) in the broiler part of the oven on low for 10-12 minutes, depending on the size of the fish. A brief high-grill at the end adds a tasty crunch. Check for doneness and flakiness. Sprinkle on lemon juice to finish off the masterpiece.
Outdoor grills are also great for cooking fish, although I have less experience there. Here is a delicious recipe for grilling a red snapper that has been splayed open.
Roasting a Whole Fish
You can also roast a whole fish. Have your fish seller gut and scale the fish, but leave the head and tail intact. A tasty and easy recipe is included in Chesapeake Table, a great book that was written by my friend and neighbor Renee Catacolos. She spreads the gospel of eating local. Try Renee’s recipe below.
Roasted Whole Porgy or Black Bass
Recipe used with permission from Chesapeake Table
2 whole fish, 1 to 1 1/2 pounds each
(choose porgies or black bass and have your fish seller gut and scale.)
salt and pepper
small bunch mixed fresh herbs-such as thyme, rosemary, and oregano
1 lemon, quartered
Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
Make 2 or 3 scores with a sharp knife on each side of the fish.
Rub the fish with a few teaspoons of olive oil
and season inside and out with salt and pepper.
Spread 1/3 of the herbs in a baking dish and place
the fish on top of the herbs. Stuff some of the herbs in the cavity
of each fish, and lay the rest of the herbs on top of the fish.
Lightly squeeze a lemon wedge over each fish,
then tuck the squeezed wedge into the cavity with the herbs.
Roast the fish for 20-25 minutes,
until the skin gets slightly crispy and the flesh is firm, but not dry.
Preparing and Eating Chesapeake Blue Crabs
My husband is a Washington native and for more than 50 years has been frequenting Jesse Taylor Seafood at the Wharf near the Navy Yard. His favorite, and now mine, is Chesapeake blue crabs. We bring them home alive and wiggling. He puts a shallow rack and then a few inches of water and about 1/2 cup of vinegar in a big kettle on our stove—and then adds the crabs. He seasons liberally ( 1/2 C) with Old Bay and places fresh corn still in the husk in the kettle on top of the crabs, adding yet more Old Bay. He leaves it cooking for about 40 minutes. (Online recipes seem to call for less time, for what it’s worth.) That’s it. The crabs are now ready to eat.
Warning: If you’ve never eaten a crab like this, you will definitely enjoy it more if you have an experienced “picker” show you how to get the crabmeat out of the shell—otherwise, you will likely be frustrated and hungry! If you do not have a seasoned (with Old Bay, of course!) Marylander to help you out, there are plenty of “How to pick a blue crab” tutorials on YouTube.
Creating a Simple Tomato-Basil Summer Salad
My favorite summer salad is so simple and equally delicious. First, find a real tomato (the ones that smell like tomatoes used to smell) at a roadside or farmers market or your own garden. Slice, arrange on a serving plate, cover with chopped basil, drizzle with olive oil….and enjoy! For an extra treat, splurge on cream of balsamic vinegar (or glaze), and use this as your drizzle! I have had success with growing basil—it is one crop that the many rabbits and deer in our neighborhood do not eat (so far).
Need more side dish ideas? Crabs or fish served with fresh corn, or maybe a little rice, and a large green salad is a balanced meal that is easy to make, as well as delicious and very satisfying.
Keep the healthy habits going!
Go to your local market and look carefully at the whole fish in the seafood department. Be bold and buy a fish. It won’t bite. :) Ask the attendant to prepare the fish and cook it one of the ways I describe or from another recipes of your choice. You will be pleasantly surprised how easy, inexpensive, and tasty this meal will be.
Want to eat healthier? Start counting your daily servings of fruits and vegetables. Summer is the season to enjoy fresh and local produce. How many servings of fruits and vegetables have you eaten today? I’d like to challenge you to a simple practice that can help you improve your diet. Are you one of the many Americans who eat excess carbs, processed foods, and meat? If you want to make a change, count your daily servings of fruits and vegetables (don’t count fruit juice and corn)—this takes only a few seconds—and see how you rate compared to the goal of at least 5 servings each day. For many, the number might be 2 or 3 servings—maybe fruit at breakfast or lunch, a vegetable with dinner, and a salad. Week by week, add more servings of fruits, salad, and all forms of raw or cooked vegetables to your diet until you reach at least 5 servings. Keep a bag of cut-up raw vegetables in the refrigerator for easy snacking! This is so much easier than “going on a diet.” Challenge a family member or friend to join you. This can easily turn into a lifelong habit that will bring you more health and vigor! I’m eager to hear how this works for you or how you currently get your 5 servings in each day.
Try the “Healthy Eating Plate” method. An easy tool to help you plan healthy meals without counting calories or grams is the “Healthy Eating Plate” method. This Harvard School of Public Health site offers easy-to-follow guidance on nutrition. I encourage you to take a look and show it to your kids or print and post it in your kitchen for easy reference.
Happy summer and God bless you all.
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