Why does the month of May always take me by surprise? It is one of the busier months for parents, yet it doesn't have the obvious warning signs: There aren't any extended holidays, the kids are in school and snow days are (hopefully!) over. Nevertheless, it is undeniably a hectic time of year.
Therefore, "simple" is the mantra right now, for everything, especially weeknight dinners. A favorite simple meal is fish and vegetables baked in parchment. What a win-win: nary a pot to clean, just a few minutes of prep time, dinner on the table 20 minutes after kickoff and an outcome high in protein and beneficial omega-3 fatty acids. Ahh, life suddenly feels just a bit more manageable.
At the store, remember that a fresh fish will not have a strong odor.
Fish stays fresher longer if kept on ice. Place whole fish belly down in a contain
er over a bag of crushed ice inside the fridge. Oily fish go bad quicker, so purchase those close to the day you plan to serve them.
For each serving, wrap a three-to-five-ounce piece of fish such as halibut or salmon in a piece of folded parchment with a dot of butter, a slice of lemon, salt, pepper and your favorite vegetables (peas and carrots are popular in our family). I bake it on a cookie sheet in a 400-degree oven, and have found that 12 minutes per inch of thickness seems to be the rule, although salmon often takes longer.
White fish such as tilapia, cod, flounder and haddock will take on the flavor of a sauce or marinade, so they are ideal for children and people who aren't fish fans.
The fish highest in omega-3 fatty acids have the strongest flavors, which may prevail through sauces and marinades. These include salmon, sardines and anchovies.
Check out Washington chef Sidra Forman's terrific recipes in a new cookbook called "The Pescetarian Plan." They are not the slightest bit intimidating.
Wild Alaskan salmon season just started, and you can get them fresh, as well as the herbs that combine so beautifully with salmon. Forman says the fish should be served while it's still pink in the middle and that you should add herbs after cooking.
When I was pregnant, I worried about ingesting mercury from fish. I learned that the fish highest in mercury are swordfish, shark, tilefish, king mackerel and albacore tuna. Then I started fearing farmed fish because of the stories I read about unethical farming practices. Farm-raised fish often live in tight quarters, so they may be exposed to more disease, which means they may be given antibiotics. And they often have a vibrant color from commercial dyes and may consume feed full of toxins.
For guidance about what fish to eat, check out www.edf.org/seafood and www.seafoodwatch.com for updates on which fish to buy from which region, from both the health and sustainability viewpoints. Or find a fishmonger you trust to tell you about where a fish was caught and its levels of mercury. I also really like this guide for my smartphone: www.thepescetarianplan.com/quick-buying-guide.
Then stop worrying, because most studies show that the benefits of eating fish outweigh the risks. Phew, because I plan on making fish for dinner a lot this month.