By Assunta Ng
NORTHWEST ASIAN WEEKLY
The coronavirus pandemic has led to a spike in meat prices, and a few friends have converted to vegetarianism. Well, not exactly.
The truth is far more complicated. Studies have found that over indulgence in red meat can cause all types of health issues, including heart disease, stroke, obesity, cancer, and diabetes. Earlier research showed that eating chicken’s white meat is more healthy than beef. However, those findings have been challenged recently. White meat is reportedly just as harmful to our cholesterol level as red meat—and linked to a higher risk of cardiovascular disease. So we have been fooled for decades! The recent meat shortage is now a legitimate cause for my friends to begin their vegetarian lifestyle.
My son asked, “Mom, are you going to be a pescatarian?” I had to Google what that meant.. Pescatarian means someone’s diet includes seafood and vegetables, but no other meat. No way, will I give up meat! I just eat less meat!
Even knowing these unflattering facts about meat, I can never be a vegetarian. We have our vices—we love steak. But I don’t cook a lot of beef at home, nor do I have any butter in my fridge. Once in a while, we venture into a steakhouse and treat ourselves with a filet mignon or prime rib. For us, it’s a shared course— bone-in steak or rack of lamb—I get the meat linked with bone and my husband gets the rest of the steak. There is no need for us to fight for our favorite pieces.
Our healthy diet consists of more vegetables and seafood. At least two to three times a week, we have fish or other types of seafood for dinner. Fish offers good fats. Even though many fish contain mercury, nutritionists say the benefits outweigh the harm.
With the pandemic preventing us from dining out, our consumption of beef has dropped dramatically. With several kinds of seafood in season, I don’t really miss beef. Nothing beats fresh seafood. I know my husband would definitely choose beef. I don’t know if it’s a man thing. To be fair, I have a lot of female friends who are also crazy about steak.
Time for seafood
The price of meat has not only jumped up 20% to 30%, some stores limit you to buying no more than two or three packages. If your family normally serves meat for dinner, why not try seafood instead? Healthy and tasty, seafood also presents a lot of possibilities in cooking.
Nutritionists often recommend salmon since it is rich in omega-3 fatty acids, proteins, vitamins, and minerals. I favor the fatty part of salmon, the belly. I would buy salmon only if it has a chunk of white fat. I am afraid to devour any beef fat or pork fat (lard), which form plaque in your brain, and clog your arteries. But salmon stomach is easy to digest and vital for your brain. About 60% of our brain is made of fat. We need beneficial fats to nourish our brain. My friend joked that I shouldn’t write about the benefits of salmon belly, inviting competitors.
“You won’t be able to buy salmon bellies later,” she warned me. I like to share good things with my readers. Besides, weight-conscious Americans would avoid any type of fats.
Many seafoods are now in season, such as razor clams and shrimp. We are blessed to have a variety of seafood in the Pacific Northwest. Supermarkets usually feature a “catch of the day,” which is supposed to be fresh and specially priced compared to other items.
Don’t be afraid to ask for what you want because the store might not display everything. For instance, you can ask for halibut cheeks, heads, tails, fillets, meat with bones, or just the bones. Always make friends with the fish guy because if he likes you, he might throw in a small piece of other seafood to sample.
Secrets of cooking seafood
How can you grill or bake fish and still have it be tender and moist? How can you stir-fry your razor clams to retain its natural crispness? How do you steam or boil your lobster to be perfect and tender?
Most Americans tend to overcook seafood, and thus, the texture of the fish, clams, scallops, or crabs becomes tough and unpalatable. For those who don’t cook seafood often, you shouldn’t be intimidated.
Experiment with not only different temperatures and cooking times, but cooking styles and ingredients. If you enjoyed what you ate in a restaurant, try making it at home. It may not turn out to be perfect, but still good. The other day, I made walnut prawns, a popular dish in Chinese restaurants. Despite the fact that I had never cooked it, I went to YouTube and watched two different tutorials, and began improvising. The tutors deep-fried the prawns, and poured too much brown sugar for the sauce. Instead, I pan-fried the prawns and used half the amount of brown sugar and less milk and mayonnaise listed in the recipes. My dish was delicious, less greasy, and healthier.
Cooking seafood is just like cooking meat, except the timing is critical. Unlike cooking meat without oil, seafood tastes better and marinated with a little bit of oil, along with other ingredients, to prevent it from getting dry during the cooking process. Always include ginger, garlic, and a little pepper to get rid of the fishy taste and smell. Another tip is to marinate the seafood with your regular ingredients and then cover it with a layer of Miracle Whip or mayonnaise. This will seal the juices and flavors inside the fish. You can also wrap the fish in foil before baking in an oven.
Many cookbook recipes advise higher temperatures than I follow. If the recipe says the seafood should be cooked at 400 degrees for half an hour, I would bake it longer at a lower heat, 350 degrees for 40-45 minutes for each pound. Don’t follow those recipes word for word. In fact, if you bake two pieces of fish, one piece might be done before the other. If that’s the case, take out the piece that is done, and give the other a little bit more time.
You might not get it right the first time, but you will by the second or third time.
For oysters, I can boil them in hot chicken broth for 3-4 minutes, and I can have oyster soup, too. Add a few shredded pieces of ginger and scallions. When the oysters are cooked, dip them in fish sauce or soy sauce. If you broil oysters, marinate them with garlic salt (or a little soy sauce), green onion and ginger, and a couple drops of oil or butter. You can space them apart on a rack. If you are not successful, don’t worry. You can always order fresh seafood in Chinese restaurants, cooked the way you like.
In any Asian supermarket, seafood is a huge attraction. If they don’t have it, they cannot survive. Asian immigrants eat a lot of seafood. We glorify live and fresh seafood.
Inside the Asian supermarkets, its fish tanks are filled with live crabs, lobsters, clams, oysters, tilapias, and, sometimes, live shrimp and scallops. The tanks are stacked on one another so the fish guys have to climb on a ladder to get your pick of seafood.
For lobsters and crab, I ask them to crack it into several small pieces. If they are not busy, they would do it. But if they are busy, they just chop the crab or lobster into four pieces. So my husband has to re-cut them into smaller pieces when we get home.
Many Asian supermarkets model their seafood department just like those in Asia.
When I went back to visit my family in Hong Kong, my mother would go to a market and buy a live rock cod and steam the fish. It was always the highlight of my first dinner home. I would aim at the fish stomach first, then the fins and finally, its head. I don’t waste anything. It’s just the way I eat it, ever since I was a child. Here in America, you have to pay for different items separately.
What’s for dinner tonight? You can decide when you visit the Asian supermarket.
Assunta can be reached at email@example.com.