Steamed Whole Fish

It seems many people find fish hard to cook — or fear it’ll be ‘smelly.’ But both are so far from the truth! To me, baking or grilling fish is one of the easiest (and healthiest) dinners possible, and I’ve never suffered a fishy-smelling kitchen. If you’re game to try for the first time, the simple overall cooking concept is to slick with oil and bake at high heat for about 10-15 minutes.

Prefer more specific directions to bake a piece of fish?  To bake Arctic Char, Salmon – basically any reasonably thick (1/2″ or more) fillet — all you do is this:

  • Preheat oven to 450. Place a thick piece of Arctic Char or Salmon (or any fillet) on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper or foil; if 1 end of fish is thin, tuck it under.
  • Generously salt the fish and sprinkle with fresh pepper to taste.
  • Slick on some olive oil – just enough to barely cover entire fillet.
  • Sprinkle on a bit fresh or dried herbs (oregano, thyme, rosemary, etc)
  • Bake for 12-15 minutes. Serve with lemon wedges.

If you want something ‘fancier’ you can find many fish recipes on my Lo-Co Recipe page; here are a few quick links to blog posts with recipes and directions:

While preparing fish using any of these methods is easy, quick and delicious, steaming a whole fish is another story. While steamed whole fish is terrifically healthy and an amazing presentation for serving guests (you cook the fish right in the dish you’ll serve it in!) it can be a bit more complicated … leftovers and bones can emit that fishy smell.

But it’s so worth it. And really fun to do with guests. We steamed a whole red snapper with our friends Chris and Dave on the eve of Christmas Eve this year – it was a fun to prepare together, and incredibly tasty.

I’d tried steaming a whole fish once before using a bamboo steamer and following David Tanis’ Steamed Whole Fish recipe – and though it was delicious, it was a fail in concept as I had to make it using a fillet as a whole fish didn’t fit in my steamer. (Read my The Trick To Steaming Whole Fish post about Mr. Tanis’ reply to my twitter query!)

After unearthing a very large pan with both a lid and a rack insert from my ‘magic closet’ I realized I now had the tools to try steaming a whole fish again. I re-read Mr. Tanis’ directions and actually watched (I never do this!) a Martha Stewart video that’s embedded on her Steamed Whole Fish page – and essentially prepared it using Martha’s recipe. The recipe is on that page too; I created a PDF of Martha’s recipe.

First, I bought a 2 1/2 pound wild-caught whole red snapper. I asked my favorite fish monger, Pagano’s, to prepare it as Martha’s video suggested: they descaled it and removed the fins and tail, so all I had to do was rinse and dry it, then lay it on the serving platter I was going to cook it on. It was helpful to watch Martha’s video, but they natter on for a long time about other things, so here’s a tip: they start talking about this fish recipe at about 3 minutes into the video; at about 6 minutes in they talk about the ingredients and at about 7:50 they talk about the fish preparation. Frustratingly, they never talk about serving it, which would have been incredibly helpful…

Then, I made my ‘mise en place,’ following what Martha and her accomplice did at about 6 minutes – because her actual written directions don’t explain/follow what they do in the video (sigh, I hate when that happens). This takes a while and you’ll want to do this before taking your fish out of the refrigerator! Then we added the ingredients to the platter and placed the platter (carefully) onto the rack set inside the very large roasting pan with an inch of boiling water we had set to go on the stovetop. If you look closely, you can see the steam rising above the top of the platter! Then we covered the roasting pan with its lid (if like Martha you are using a roasting pan with no lid, you’d cover the fish with parchment THEN tightly cover that with foil – you can’t have foil touching the fish!)

Twenty-five minutes later, (about 10 minutes per pound) and straight out of the pan, it looked like this:

 

 

 

 

 

 

We then pulled the fish from the bones – and served it like this (you’ll notice only cilantro and scallions atop the fish – the ginger and lemongrass and other ingredients were just ‘aromatics’ – they don’t get served!):

 

 

 

 

 

 

With this of course (yes, that’s all that was left of the first bottle of white wine we drank while cooking the fish!):

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It’s worth watching the Marta Stewart video for pointers, and here’s the full recipe in a PDF format, Steamed Whole Fish, that I modified to include directions they left off the website recipe. Give it a whirl – wrap up the bones tightly or they will smell (better yet, make fish stock – but who am I kidding, I’d never bother!)  And of course, always best to do all your slicing before you drink the wine. (That was a lesson learned the hard way for me.)

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Easy Baked Maple Glazed Arctic Char Without Smoke Alarms

The very easy, delicious Easy Baked Maple Glazed Arctic Char recipe has long been a staple in our weekly dinner rotation but it hit me recently that I hadn’t made it since the weather turned cool. Originally, I discovered this recipe on the blandly named, All-Fish-Seafood-Recipes website. It’s perfect for a healthy dinner on a busy weeknight: excluding the fish and the optional toppings, this recipe calls for just 4 ingredients – and they’re likely in your pantry already:

  • maple syrup (real!)
  • soy sauce
  • fresh ginger (I use ground ginger that I keep in my refrigerator)
  • cornstarch, dissolved in 1 tablespoon water

Always delicious, you can find the full recipe with my notes added here: Easy Baked Maple Glazed Arctic Char. And if you want more information about why char is a great, healthy dinner choice, read my post, Arctic Char – Better Than Salmon.

What reminded me to make this recipe last week was that my 91 year old mother-in-law said she was going to try it for the first time. Luckily, when we called the next day to ask how it turned out, she said she didn’t have 2 of the ingredients (!) so hadn’t made it yet. I felt lucky she hadn’t attempted it yet because I ran into a never-happened-before issue when I made it this week, and need to warn her about it.

Backstory: my ‘old’ oven died over Thanksgiving – cliche, I know, but luckily disaster was averted. Cue newly installed ovens, an unwelcome surprise expense weeks before the holidays. Sigh. But I was excited to test out the oven, so I prepped the fish with the four easy-as-pie ingredients, as usual, and popped it into my new oven.  Within five minutes it began emitting copious amounts of smoke. Like I was, well, smoking something!

img_3088_EasyBakedMapleCharAs I often do, I baked the fish in the top oven and roasted brussels sprouts and Ina Garten’s Garlic Roasted Potatoes in the lower oven. Lower oven was A-OK. But the upper oven smoked so much we threw open windows and doors to the arctic (sorry!) air and felt lucky the house smoke alarms didn’t go off.

This dish always smokes a bit. Sometimes a good amount. I mean, baking a sugar-soy glazed dish in a 450 oven will of course burn the sugar and set off smoke, but this level of smoke was unprecedented.

I’m not sure if my brand new oven is running too hot – I guess i’ll get an oven thermometer and test it out. And I’ll try it on a lower rack next time, and warn my mother-in-law to do the same.

I’d be interested in any other suggestions. The fish was the same, delicious dish – the smoke affected just my kitchen, not the taste. But do try this recipe for a fast, healthy weeknight dinner – and let me know what happens smoke-wise!

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Statin Guidelines – The Fight Continues

It’s startling how much debate and disagreement exists about the guidelines for statin use.

Back in November 2013, new guidelines were published by the American Heart Association and the American College of Cardiology. The 2013 guidelines represented a significant shift in cholesterol management: essentially moving away from targeting/treating to a specific cholesterol level and instead encouraging treatment of all individuals with a 10-year risk of heart disease of 7.5% or higher (for specifics, see my post, The NEW guidelines for cholesterol-lowering statin meds).

There then ensued heated arguments over the published Risk Calculator that yields that all-important 10-year level of heart disease risk. Indeed, clicking the AHA’s Heart Attack Risk Assessment page right now yields this frustrating error:

“We’re sorry, but this tool is currently unavailable. The Heart Attack Risk Calculator is being updated and will be available soon. Please check back!”

Luckily, the AHA’s Prevention Guidelines page with a link to the original calculator still exists, so you can still calculate your 10-year risk. (Note: if these links fail, try my RESOURCES page: I’ll try to keep the risk calculator links up-to-date there.)

Assuming one believes at least directionally in the AHA’s risk calculator (and I do), it’s important for those who can use the calculator* and assess your personal level of heart disease risk over the next 10 years. (* You cannot use the calculator if you have heart disease or take statins already. Read more about calculators here.)

Until yesterday, it was clear what to do with your resulting risk: if someone between 40-75** gets a 10-year risk of heart disease of 7.5% or more, statin therapy should be considered and discussed with a doctor. (** See full 11/2013 recommendations below.)

But yesterday, things got a little tricky for anyone whose risk is between 7.5% and 10%.

Because yesterday, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force issued new guidance for the use of statins which is not exactly the same as the AHA 2013 guidelines. (The USPSTF guidelines were published in the Journal of the American Medical Association; read/download a PDF here).

  • On the plus side, the new USPSTF guidelines support the November 2013 AHA decision in that the new guidelines are also based on the 10-year risk calculator. So the USPSTF added weight to the argument for using 10-year risk calculator, and not treating by managing to a particular LDL cholesterol level.
  • On the tricky side, the new USPSTF guidelines increased the risk of heart disease cutoff from 7.5% to 10%.

So now it’s not entirely clear what someone with a risk rate of 7.5%-10% should do. And whether insurance will cover statins for those individuals.

That’s because, as Ariana Eunjung Cha of The Washington Post astutely points out in her excellent article, New Statin Guidelines: Everyone 40 and older should be considered for the drug therapy, both Medicare and the Affordable Care Act use USPSTF recommendations to guide drug coverage plans. So that MAY call into question whether insurance companies will cover statin drugs for those in the 7.5% to 10% risk group.

In the end, what’s important is this: calculate your 10-year risk of heart disease. Use the calculator, and:

  • If you’re below 7.5%, make sure to keep pursuing a lo-co lifestyle with frequent exercise and a healthy, low-fat, low-sugar, plant-based diet.
  • If your risk is over 10%, get thee to a doctor and discuss statins.
  • If your risk is between 7.5% and 10%, talk to your doctor or cardiologist about what next steps are right for you.

It all starts with your risk: calculate it!  It’s so easy – all you need is your latest cholesterol results and systolic blood pressure (the first number).  Then review your personal results and make a plan with your doctor.

Supplement:
** November 2013 AHA recommendation: if you are in one of the following four groups, you have elevated heart disease risk and should take statins:

  1. those who already have cardiovascular disease
  2. anyone with LDL (bad) cholesterol of 190 mg/dL or higher
  3. anyone between 40 and 75 years of age who has Type 2 diabetes
  4. people between 40 and 75 who have an estimated 10-year risk of cardiovascular disease of 7.5 percent or higher.

The USPSTF November 2016 recommendation:
“The USPSTF recommends that adults without a history of cardiovascular disease (CVD) (ie, symptomatic coronary artery disease or ischemic stroke) use a low- to moderate-dose statin for the prevention of CVD events and mortality when all of the following criteria are met: 1) they are aged 40 to 75 years; 2) they have 1 or more CVD risk factors (ie, dyslipidemia, diabetes, hypertension, or smoking); and 3) they have a calculated 10-year risk of a cardiovascular event of 10% or greater.”

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How Much Exercise For Boosting Heart Health?

Exercise is one of the key methods for lowering cholesterol – and blood pressure, my new concern — without medications. So to reduce my blood pressure and to continue to keep my cholesterol in check without any meds, I’ve been wondering just how much, how hard, and how often I need to exercise.

In researching, I found this nifty chart from the American Heart Association. It’s a little busy, but the key is the bottom-most graphic, which is for lowering cholesterol and blood pressure (how handy that they are together goal-wise!)

Apparently, to lower cholesterol and blood pressure, one needs to exercise for an average of 40 minutes at a ‘moderate-to-vigorous-intensity aerobic activity’ 3-4 days each week.

AHA Exercise Guidelines

Which sounds like kind of a lot, people.

I mean, I can jog for 20 minutes before my knees hurt – but certainly not 40 minutes (I was awed when my 21 year old son ran the Chicago marathon in 3 hours and 49 minutes. I still can’t believe he did that / that anyone can run for that long!).  So, um, 40 minutes of ‘moderate-to-vigorous’ exercise 3-4 times a week sounds like a LOT to me.

So obviously, the key question is – what is ‘moderate-to-vigorous-intensity’ aerobic activity?

To me, moderate-vigorous seems like it’d be exercise that gets my heart rate to hit at about 70-85% of my Max Heart Rate (for me, that’s 140-154 or so). If you want to know more about setting a personal heart rate goal, read How To Set A Simple Heart Rate Goal. But is that moderate or is that vigorous?

Luckily, the American Heart Association had a post that answered that exact question: Moderate to Vigorous – What is your level of intensity?  The AHA defines moderate and vigorous exercise as follows (link to the article for more detailed, pretty interesting info):

Examples of Moderate Intensity:

  • Walking briskly (3 miles per hour or faster, but not race-walking)
  • Water aerobics
  • Bicycling slower than 10 miles per hour
  • Tennis (doubles)
  • Ballroom dancing
  • General gardening

Examples of Vigorous Intensity:

  • Race walking, jogging, or running
  • Swimming laps
  • Tennis (singles)
  • Aerobic dancing
  • Bicycling 10 miles per hour or faster
  • Jumping rope
  • Heavy gardening (continuous digging or hoeing)
  • Hiking uphill or with a heavy backpack

Whew. I can walk quickly for 40 minutes to count as heart-healthy exercise. Yay – that’s one I can actually do!  But walking is kind of boring to me – and 40 minutes still feels like a lot of time.

So I need another option. One that’s vigorous but doesn’t eat into my day. Which is why I’m intrigued by High-Intensity Interval Training. In fact, this explanation of HIIT from Karen Reed of Positive Health Wellness was music to my ears, “Thanks to the non-stop, high-intensity pace of the workout, you can fit in both aerobic (cardio) and anaerobic (resistance training) exercise in just 15 to 25 minutes.” For more details, read her article, “All The Benefits of High Intensity Interval Training Workouts.”

I’d rather ramp up my exercise plan than go on blood pressure or cholesterol meds, so I’m looking at trying out High-Intensity Interval Training and/or scheduling more – or longer – aerobic exercise into my week. How about you?

 

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Heart Attack Symptoms in Women

A recent bout of acid reflux made me wonder about heart attack symptoms in women – I vaguely recalled that women (and men, but more often women) often don’t go to the Emergency Room with heart attack symptoms because they don’t want to be embarrassed to find that all they have is heartburn.

It can be a costly mistake. Especially for women.

Because heart attack symptoms can present differently for women than men. Both men and women can experience left arm pain along with crushing chest pain – like an elephant is sitting on their chest. But women are much more likely to be having a heart attack and not realize it because they are not having huge chest pain – and instead they are suffering with heartburn, dizziness, fainting, shortness of breath, nausea, and back &/or jaw pain.

According to the American Heart Association’s Heart Attack Symptoms In Women web page, they advise the following are “Heart Attack Signs in Women:

  1. Uncomfortable pressure, squeezing, fullness or pain in the center of your chest. It lasts more than a few minutes, or goes away and comes back.
  2. Pain or discomfort in one or both arms, the back, neck, jaw or stomach.
  3. Shortness of breath with or without chest discomfort.
  4. Other signs such as breaking out in a cold sweat, nausea or lightheadedness.
  5. As with men, women’s most common heart attack symptom is chest pain or discomfort. But women are somewhat more likely than men to experience some of the other common symptoms, particularly shortness of breath, nausea/vomiting and back or jaw pain.

If you have any of these signs, call 9-1-1 and get to a hospital right away.”

This 3 minute film directed by and starring Elizabeth Banks illustrates how heart attack symptoms can look like for a fit, healthy woman:

Please know that a heart attack doesn’t have to feel like severe chest pressure — especially in women — and if you ever experience any of the signs of a heart attack, even if you are a fit, healthy woman, get to an Emergency Room.

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