By Scott Mechura Explore Big Sky Food Columnist
It’s mostly accepted that fish, and seafood in general, is healthy. And in most cases, healthier than beef or pork. We’re told fish is a much better alternative to these other proteins as it contains all the nutrients our bodies need without all the fat and cholesterol.
But, seafood also comes with its share of misinformation and fake lore.
Though Montana exports significant amounts of its beef and pork to China and Mexico, we obviously import all of our seafood. It’s important to know as much as we can about it and what is myth versus fact.
Here are some of the most common seafood topics that come up.
Myth: Only eat shellfish in months with the letter “R”. There was a time when red tide in warm coastal areas went unmonitored, and fish would contain this alga, which can make humans extremely sick. But harvesting in these areas during this period is now heavily regulated. There is some truth in that those months are at a time of year when most fish and shellfish spawn, and their flavor is compromised during this time, but certainly no health risks.
Myth: Don’t eat fish because it contains mercury. Many larger ocean fish do contain some level of mercury, and children, pregnant women and nursing mothers should avoid it in large amounts, but the health benefits of eating fish far outweighs the mercury intake, according to most medical professionals.
Myth: If you are eating mahi mahi you are eating dolphin. Mahi mahi is simply the Hawaiian name of a fish common in warm Pacific waters known as dorado, or dolphin fish. Somewhere along the way, someone associated the word dolphin with the mammal that performs tricks and thought their meal was coming from SeaWorld rather than a commercial fisherman.
Myth: Fresh fish is better than frozen. Almost all fish are frozen at one time, but it is usually done in very cold commercial freezers very shortly after being caught. By law, it is required of most fish to kill potential parasites.
Myth: Oysters only go with champagne. In my opinion, the bubbles in champagne overpower the delicate nuances of many varieties of oysters. I suggest I clean crisp Chablis or sauvignon blanc. And if you want to expand your palate, a light, crisp, low bitterness, mildly hopped ale or lager is wonderful. And if you can find one in nitro, even better. My favorite? A clean, well distilled vodka.
Myth: Eating fish and dairy together are toxic. If this were the case, then no one told the French, who have been pairing fish and cream based sauces for a century. Judaism has many restrictions and corresponding exceptions to this combo, but it is strictly religious belief, not a health concern.
Myth: My fish smells “fishy.” If your fish smells or tastes fishy, then it is less than fresh. It may not necessarily be bad, but it is not at its peak. Fresh fish should have virtually no aroma. Some fish inherently have a strong aroma due to the oils in the flesh, such as salmon, or mackerel, but generally speaking, fresh fish doesn’t smell like “fish.”
Lastly, when purchasing whole fish from a market, like salmon for example, some things to look for.
First, look for clear eyes. Next, it should be firm and spring back to the touch. It should have virtually no aroma of any kind, and the gills should be bright in color, not grey or brown. The gills are the first thing to go so if the gills are removed, your fish monger is telling you something. The message to me is go somewhere else.
Scott Mechura has spent a life in the hospitality industry. He is a former certified beer judge and currently the Executive Chef at Buck’s T-4 Lodge in Big Sky.