Best Fishes


A cook's guide to shopping for — and cooking with — eco-friendly seafood

SHRIMP AND GRITS, fresh marinated salmon, pan-fried catfish — these mouthwatering dishes are nutritious (loaded with protein, vitamins, minerals, and omega-3 fatty acids) and easy to make (check out the three recipes that follow), but require a little mindfulness in the preparation. Buy the wrong kind of fish and you could end up ingesting high levels of mercury or inadvertently contributing to the overfishing of certain seafood populations. To protect your health — and the health of the planet — we put together this simple shopping checklist.

SHOP SMART Choosing sustainably farmed or caught seafood ensures that it was harvested without using destructive methods (such as trawling and dredging, which destroy eco-systems, or gill netting, which kills endangered species such as sea turtles and marine mammals like dolphins) or raised using practices that pollute nearby bodies of water with parasites and chemicals. "For some species, farming is best, for others, wild is better," says Dane Klinger, research associate at the Blue Ocean Institute in Norwich, N.Y., who recommends checking for country-of-origin labels (domestically raised or harvested seafood is usually best) and asking your fishmonger how it was caught.

We researched how to buy the best quality versions of five common types of seafood and then created recipes for them.
domestic shrimp

ECO BENEFITS Sustainable farming and harvesting preserve marine habitats.

HEALTH BENEFITS Low in fat; high in selenium, protein, omega-3s, and vitamins D and 612

HOW IT'S CAUGHT The harvesting of U.S. Northern and pink salmon employs devices that reduce "bycatch" — unintentionally caught and discarded marine animals. Avoid buying imported shrimp: Some tropical shrimp fisheries have significant amounts of bycatch, and in places like Southeast Asia and Latin America, shrimp ponds destroy mangrove forests and pollute coastal areas. In the U.S., measures to reduce pollution have made farmed shrimp an increasingly popular and available option.

COOKING TIP Shrimp's subtle, briny flavor stands up well to spicy marinades and sauces. (See Shrimp with Grits & Asparagus recipe, page 38.)
domestic catfish

ECO BENEFITS Low-impact; fed a mostly vegetarian diet

HEALTH BENEFITS High in potassium and vitamin B12

HOW IT'S CAUGHT U.S.-farmed catfish are raised in closed, inland ponds, which minimizes the risk of contaminating larger eco-systems. Their impact is further reduced by their mostly vegetarian diets. "Catfish require much less fishmeal and fish oil in their feed than other farmed fish," says Klinger of the Blue Ocean Institute, which researches and recommends "ocean-friendly" seafood.

COOKING TIP The most popular American commercial fish, catfish has a mud flavor that makes it versatile in the kitchen. It's most often served pan-fried. (See Catfish en Papillote recipe, page 34.)
wild sardines

ECO BENEFITS Thriving species, low on the marine food chain

HEALTH BENEFITS High in omega-3 fatty acids, calcium, and niacin

HOW IT'S CAUGHT Sardine populations are now healthy, after suffering a dramatic decrease in the late 1940s. These little fish mature quickly and reproduce often, which helps keep their numbers up. Because they are low on the marine food chain, sardines have very low levels of pollutants like mercury.

COOKING TIP Oil-rich sardines are brightened with the acidity of lemon juice. (See Spring Salad with Sardines & Olives recipe, page 36.)
hand-harvested clams

ECO BENEFITS Hand-harvesting avoids dredging and preserves native eco-systems.

HEALTH BENEFITS Low in fat; high in iron, calcium, niacin, vitamin C

HOW IT'S CAUGHT Clams harvested with hand tongs or farmed in suspended bags, nets, or racks are better for the environment and the species. Farmed clams don't require fish-based food (fishmeal and fish oil) as do most other aquaculture products. Avoid clams that have been harvested by dredging. "Dredging causes significant damage to the sea floor, underwater habitats, and other organisms," explains Klinger.

COOKING TIP Hard clams are popular in soups and with pasta, or simply steamed. (See Creamy Tomato Clam Soup recipe at
wild alaskan salmon

ECO BENEFITS Avoids the pitfalls of farmed salmon, including sea lice, disease resistance, and the introduction of antibiotics into the eco-system

HEALTH BENEFITS One of the best sources of omega-3 fatty acids

HOW IT'S CAUGHT Wild Alaskan salmon is far preferable to farmed salmon, which often contains high levels of mercury and PCBs and transfers sea lice and parasites when the fish escape the farm and mingle with wild salmon. Alaska's wild salmon stocks are thriving (unlike those in the overfished Pacific Northwest). Look for wild Coho, Sockeye, Chinook, Chum, and Pink salmon. Unfortunately, most salmon (such as Atlantic) served in markets and restaurants is farmed.

COOKING TIP Drizzle salmon with extra-virgin olive oil, wrap it in foil or parchment, and bake it till it reaches the consistency you like best. (See Miso-Marinated Salmon recipe at

• LEARN MORE: There are many watchdog groups devoted to protecting overfished populations. To find out more about them, go to
Catfish en Papillote Serves 4

Catfish's mild flavor is complemented by scallions, peppers, and ginger — which also bump up the antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties of the dish.

1 pound U.S.-farmed catfish fillet
4 scallions, julienned into matchsticks
½ red bell pepper, julienned into matchsticks
1 2-inch piece of ginger, peeled and julienned
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon soy sauce
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon rice vinegar
1 teaspoon sesame oil Cilantro for garnish

1. Preheat oven to 400° F. Slice catfish at an angle, top to bottom, into four pieces. Tear four rectangles of parchment paper, each approximately 13 x 15 inches. Fold each in half and unfold. Arrange on baking sheet. Place a piece of catfish to one side of the fold on each piece of parchment.
2. Divide scallions, bell pepper, ginger, and garlic equally over each of the four pieces of catfish. In a small bowl, combine soy sauce, vinegar, and oil. Pour evenly on catfish. Refold parchment rectangles to cover catfish and press edges closed to create pouches.
3. Bake on sheet for 6 to 10 minutes (depending on thickness of fish), just until opaque through thickest part. Garnish with cilantro.

Per serving: 184 calories, 10 g fat (2 g saturated), 5 g carbohydrates, 19 g protein, 1g fiber, 500 mg sodium (22% Daily Value).
Spring Salad with Sardines & Olives Serves 4

Sardines supply a serious dose of omega-3s, and just the right note of salty tang to this light spring salad. (The dish's relatively high fat content is nearly all heart-healthy unsaturated fat.)

8 sardine fillets Salt and pepper
6 tablespoons olive oil
½ cup sun-dried tomatoes, julienned
1 cup assorted whole pitted low-sodium olives
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon fresh-squeezed lemon juice
½ pound baby spinach, arugula, and other salad greens
½ red onion, cut in thin slices

1. Season sardines with salt and pepper on both sides. Heat 2 tablespoons oil in skillet over high heat. Place sardines in pan, skin side down. Fry 2 to 3 minutes or until brown. Flip; fry on other side another 2 to 3 minutes. Remove sardines from pan and set aside; reduce heat to medium and put sun-dried tomatoes and olives in sardine oil in pan. Heat sun-dried tomatoes and olives, stirring occasionally, about 5 minutes. Set aside.
2. Combine balsamic vinegar, lemon juice, and salt and pepper to taste. Add 4 tablespoons oil in a slow stream, whisking constantly, until emulsified. Toss desired amount of vinaigrette with greens and onion slices; divide onto four plates. Scatter warmed sun-dried tomatoes and olives on greens; lay two sardine fillets on each salad.

Per serving: 397 calories, 34 g fat (5 g saturated), 5 g carbohydrates, 12 g protein, 2.5 g fiber, 500 mg sodium (22% Daily Value).

PHOTO (COLOR): Shrimp with Grits & Asparagus (recipe, page 38)

PHOTO (COLOR): Catfish en Papillote

PHOTO (COLOR): Spring Salad with Sardines & Olives


By Janice Huang

Photography by Hector Sanchez

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