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Published September 16, 2011, 12:00 AM

Prairie Fare: Looking for lean protein? Add fish to your diet

“OK, everyone, stand back!” announced the person preparing our food. We were at a “fish boil” outside a restaurant in Wisconsin at the time. My three kids, husband and I obediently backed up almost to the road in front of the restaurant. All eyes were on the large pot poised over an outdoor fire.

“OK, everyone, stand back!” announced the person preparing our food.

We were at a “fish boil” outside a restaurant in Wisconsin at the time.

My three kids, husband and I obediently backed up almost to the road in front of the restaurant. All eyes were on the large pot poised over an outdoor fire.

Two of the restaurant employees were holding cups of kerosene. I aimed my camera lens at the boiling pot of salted water containing fish, potatoes, carrots and onions.

One worker said “go” and they threw the fuel on the flames. As the workers ran quickly out of the way, 15-foot flames shot up around the boiling pot.

During the explosion, I heard my kids say “Wow!” simultaneously. I caught a picture of the flaming spectacle on my digital camera. I’m amazed I didn’t drop my camera.

The sudden injection of fuel onto the flames caused the water to boil rapidly and spill over the edge, putting out the fire in the process. Within a couple minutes, the workers removed the pot of food and brought it into the restaurant to serve it to the customers.

“Don’t expect that in our backyard,” I said to my grinning family.

Soon we were enjoying a meal of white fish with buttered vegetables. I heard another customer ask what the special seasoning was, and the chef said “salt.”

Although it was tasty, I’m sure the explosion played a role in the customers’ enjoyment. Typically, boiled fish and vegetables would not be met with such enthusiasm in my home.

Besides boiling, fish can be prepared in many different ways, including grilling, baking, steaming, broiling, poaching and pan-frying.

Whether you catch your own fish or buy it fresh or frozen at a grocery store, consider adding more fish to your diet. The 2010 U.S. Dietary Guidelines encourage most of us to eat 8 ounces of fish weekly. Most Americans consume less than half that amount.

Canned tuna or salmon often are less expensive than other forms, so you can spare your food budget while meeting the recommendation.

Fish is a lean source of protein with a mild flavor that pairs well with many different foods. Some types of fish, especially salmon, are good sources of omega-3 fatty acids. These healthy fats play a role in keeping our heart, brain and eyes healthy.

Fish is one of the most perishable of all foods, so be sure to prepare fresh fish soon after purchase. If you are buying a whole fish, remember to look at the eyes. Fish that is past its prime will have sunken eyes that may appear cloudy or dry. The gills of fresh fish should be red.

Fish with a “fishy” aroma is past its prime. If you are buying frozen fillets, you may want to bring a cooler along with you to the grocery store if you have a distance to drive. Thaw frozen fish in the refrigerator or under cold water, and use it promptly.

Fish is done when it flakes with a fork or reaches an internal temperature of 145 degrees.

If you catch your own fish, be aware that consumption advisories may be in place. In some lakes and rivers, the fish may contain mercury levels that could be harmful, especially to pregnant women. Contact your local health department for more information.

Enjoy the catch of the day with this easy recipe. The fish has a crunchy coating and a bit of a kick from the hot sauce.


Oven-Fried Fish

2 pounds fish fillets (such as tilapia or cod)

1 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice

¼ cup fat-free buttermilk

1 tsp. fresh garlic, minced

1/8 tsp. hot sauce

¼ tsp. white pepper (or substitute black pepper)

¼ tsp. salt

¼ tsp. onion powder

½ cup cornflakes, crumbled

1 Tbsp. salad oil (such as canola or sunflower oil)

1 fresh lemon, cut in wedges

Preheat oven to 475 degrees. Clean and rinse the fish. Wipe the fillets with lemon juice and pat dry with paper towels. Combine the milk, hot sauce and garlic.

Combine the pepper, salt and onion powder with crumbs and place on a plate. Let fillets sit briefly in milk. Remove and coat fillets on both sides with the seasoned crumbs. Let stand briefly until coating sticks to each side of the fish. Arrange on a lightly oiled shallow baking dish. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes on the middle rack without turning. Fish should flake with a fork and reach an internal temperature of 145 degrees. Cut into six pieces and serve.

Makes six servings. Each serving has 150 calories, 3.5 grams (g) of fat, 4 g of carbohydrate, 25 g of protein, and 210 milligrams of sodium.


Julie Garden-Robinson, Ph.D., R.D., L.R.D., is a North Dakota State University Extension Service food and nutrition specialist and associate professor in the Department of Health, Nutrition and Exercise Sciences.

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