Inspired by restaurants serving exotic fish dishes, armed with purchasing power, ample resources and knowledge that, yes, fish is good for you, today's consumer has "bought" fish hook, line and sinker.
There is a genuine fish-eating explosion nationwide.
And the chances are you will be eating and cooking more fish in 1986.
There has been an 11% increase in fish consumption between 1982 and 1984. According to National Fisheries Institute projections, a rise from 13.6 to 14 pounds per capita is expected to be reported for 1985. In states bordered by waterways, a 20-pound per capita consumption rate is expected. So get ready for some light-bright fish cooking for this new year.
The big news is that fresh fish consumption is growing. Of all stores carrying fish nationwide, 85.5% now are carrying fresh seafood. In fact, fresh seafood accounts for most of the sales in these markets, according to an NFI report.
Up to now, 65% to 75% of fish consumed in America was eaten away from home. But that trend is in reverse. "Americans will be cooking more fish at home from now on," said Larry Levine, director of education at the California Fisheries Assn.
"One of the problems has been education. Most people don't know how to handle or cook fish. Up to now, fish has been a cast-aside item in meat counters, where butchers, who are not trained or knowledgeable about fish, could not educate the consumer," Levine said.
But help is on the way. In a recent push to promote eating fish at home, the California Fisheries Assn. has been issued a government grant to train meat cutters and supermarket fish counter clerks about purchasing, storing and cooking of fish.
There are several reasons for the rise in interest over fish.
Fish has the blessing of health experts as a low-calorie, low-fat, low-cholesterol alternative to higher fat meats. With the exception of some fatty fish (trout and tuna, among others), most fish contain about 100 calories per serving, compared to about 300 calories per serving for most meats.
Most fish, like meat, contains high amounts of vitamins, minerals and important trace minerals. Fish also boasts highly digestive proteins, ideal in the feeding of children and the elderly.
But a social aspect to fish consumption has, in recent years, entered the picture. Fish has been glamorized by a growing number of elite restaurant chefs whose exotic fish cookery has inspired those who can afford the cost of exotic fish to try their hand at fish-cooking at home.
Never before has the marketplace offered the consumer more varieties of fresh fish. Today, a typical market offers more than 70 fresh and frozen fish items, and the number increases. There is a growing trend toward fish boutique shops offering fish flown in daily from ports around the world (see story on Flying Foods, Page 24).
Once the exclusive domain of the restaurant trade, today's consumer has access to the same exotic fishes at prices not too far off from those paid by the restaurant trade. Fish such as St. Peter's fillets from the Sea of Galilee, John Dory from New Zealand, langoustine from France, loup de mer from Holland, wild salmon from Ireland, red shrimp from Spain, turbot from Holland and tunatto from Italy are as much available to the consumer as the restaurant, thus chipping away at the power of exclusivity of the restaurant.
The question is, how do you cook fish without botching it up.
Fish is not as easy to handle as beef, which you can toss on the grill from a distance of five feet without fear of destruction.
Fish is delicate, but once you get the handle on its delicate cooking characteristics, fish becomes a quick and easy answer to fast meals when time is precious--and even when it is not.
Firm Vs. Flaky Flesh
Most fish can be baked, broiled, steamed or pan-fried. Some fish are more conducive to certain cooking methods than others because of firm or soft texture quality, or thickness or thinness of the flesh.
In general, and with some exceptions, fish with lean flesh, such as catfish, cod, flounder, grouper, haddock, halibut, perch, sea bass, sea trout, sole and swordfish, have firm flesh, which makes handling them easier than fish with soft, flaky, fatty flesh, such as lake trout, mackerel, sea herring, salmon, shad, tuna and whitefish.
Thin fillets do better when pan-fried or rolled for steaming. Thick cuts of fish can be cubed for kebabs, cut into steaks or fillets to broil, bake, barbecue or steam.
But the first step in fish cooking starts at the fish counter. Here are some tips on buying, storing and cooking from the American Economics Assn. bulletin, "Handbook of Food Preparation."
How much fish should you purchase per serving?
Figure on three-quarters of a pound per serving for whole fish; half a pound for dressed or pan dressed (scales, entrails, head, tail and fins removed), and one-third pound per serving for fillets or steaks.