published Wednesday, August 14th, 2013

Side Orders: Consumers eating less fresh fish

Billie Ponder of Chattanooga loves fish. In fact, she says she buys it two or three times a month, usually fresh from Whole Foods.

"I've heard salmon is one of the best foods for your health," she says.

And, since she's trying to get as much omega-3 in her diet as possible, salmon is a good choice because it's high in omega-3, which helps with heart health.

Fish's unsaturated fats -- that's what omega-3 is -- appear to reduce the risk of dying from heart disease. For many years, the American Heart Association has recommended that people eat fish rich in omega-3 fatty acids at least twice a week.

The folks at Mayo Clinic suggest eating one to two servings of fish a week could reduce your risk of dying of a heart attack by one-third or more, so really, Pender should up her consumption. But, she says, buying fresh fish twice a week is not in her budget.

She's not alone.

A recent survey from Packaged Facts, a provider of market research in consumer goods, reports that Americans consumed about 15 pounds of fish and shellfish per year in 2011, the most recent data available. That's down from 15.8 pounds in 2010 and 16 pounds in 2009. As the recession deepened, people quit buying.

The survey found that, while the amount of frozen and prepared fish products -- such as prebreaded fish and seafood products -- rose, particularly store brands over premium brands, people cut back on the purchase of fresh fish. Consumers also worry about spoilage and contamination with fresh fish more than they do meat and poultry, the survey says.

"I always cook it as soon as I get it home," Pender says. "I worry about keeping it for more than a day or two if it's not frozen."

The Food and Drug Administration advises keeping fresh fish and shellfish no longer than two days in the refrigerator.

Here are some other guidelines to follow when selecting fish and shrimp:

• Fish should smell fresh and mild, not fishy, sour or ammonia-like.

• A fish's eyes should be clear and bulge a little.

• Whole fish and fillets should have firm, shiny flesh and bright red gills free from milky slime.

• The flesh should spring back when pressed.

• Fish fillets should display no discoloration, darkening or drying around the edges.

• Shrimp flesh should be translucent and shiny with little or no odor.

But the perception that fresh fish is healthier than frozen fish is incorrect, according to David Sprinkle, research director at Packaged Facts.

"Modern freezing techniques for fish have eliminated any substantial differences," he says. "If handled properly, fresh and frozen fish are both safe and healthy. But either can be damaged by neglectful practices in the distribution process and by consumers themselves."

And then there's the news about aquaculture, or farm-raised fish. There have been reports that some fish farmers don't follow the best practices. Sprinkle says there have been many instances of aquafarming abuses in the past, and reports of mismanagement continue.

"We didn't find any quantitative data to indicate if aquafarmers are doing a better job these days, a worse job or if problems persist at the same level," he says. "Concerns remain that fish raised in the close quarters of fish farms may have health problems, and that the chemical treatments in the food fed to the fish and used to treat the water in which they are kept may pose potential harm to surrounding environments.

"However, there is clearly more oversight from organizations such as Friends of the Sea, the Aquaculture Certification Council and the Aquaculture Stewardship Council. In addition, the National Marine Fisheries Service has become more involved in promoting aquaculture as a potential strategy to help repopulate fish species that are threatened with the possibility of extinction."

The news for the fish industry is not all bad, though. Overall, Packaged Facts projects that the U.S. retail market for fish and seafood to reach $17.1 billion by 2017, reflecting an annual growth rate of 3.1 percent.

My husband and I eat fish once a week, usually tuna or salmon since those are the only types I can find at my Soddy-Daisy Bi-Lo. And, yes, they are frozen but usually quite good.

Here's a recipe from food.com that I've found to be excellent for tuna. I've tried it on salmon, too, with good results.

Tuna Steaks With Citrus Marinade

2-3 (4-ounce) fresh tuna steaks

Ground black pepper or lemon pepper (to taste)

Marinade

1/4 cup orange juice

1/4 cup low sodium soy sauce

1 tablespoon hoisin sauce

1 tablespoon lemon juice or 1 tablespoon lime juice

3 tablespoons oil

2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley

3 fresh garlic cloves, minced

In a bowl, combine all marinade ingredients until well blended. Place the tuna steaks into a shallow glass dish. Pour the marinade over the tuna steaks, turn to coat, then cover with plastic wrap. Refrigerate 8 to 24 hours, turning a couple of times during chilling.

To cook, preheat the grill to high heat. Oil the grill grate.

Remove the steaks from marinade (discard any marinade) and place on a plate. Season lightly with freshly ground black pepper on both sides. Grill the steaks for 5 minutes per side or until rare or medium-rare. Do not overcook the tuna or it will be dry.

•••

And while on the subject of steaks, I recently received an email from McCormick's about the company's newest product, Grill Mates steak sauce. I'm not too fond of most steak sauces, but I have always loved Grill Mates' Montreal steak seasoning, so I decided to give the steak sauces a try.

Before I could get to the store to buy some, my husband, an avid steak sauce lover, came home with two bottles of Grill Mates in each flavor -- Montreal Steak and Smoky Montreal Steak. Wanting to try both, he also brought home a couple of T-bones, and we put them to the test.

I'm sold now. The Montreal Steak was good with a little bite of black and red pepper, but the Smoky Montreal Steak was outstanding with its smoky flavor added to the peppery blend. It's the kind of sauce that works double-time because it's just as good, if not better, I think, on grilled chicken and pulled pork. I'll be trying it on ribs next. The new line of sauces is now in most area stores and retails for around $3.69 per bottle.

Contact Anne Braly at abraly@timesfreepress.com.

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