Chris Zellers, MPP -Assistant Professor/Educator, Rutgers Cooperative Extension of Cape May County, Family & Community Health Sciences Department
National Seafood month is in October and serves as a reminder that seafood is a lean healthy option for protein all year long. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends choosing seafood in place of other meats for its nutrient dense content and because it is low in fat, sodium, and calories. A diet lower in saturated fat supports heart health, and seafood’s vitamins and minerals are heart healthy. About 94% of children and 80% of adults are not currently meeting the recommended allowances for seafood which are 2-3 times per week for adults to total 8 ounces per week. In a study done at Rutgers Cooperative Extension of Cape May County residents reported several reasons for not eating enough seafood which include cost, lack of preparation and purchasing knowledge. These reasons for avoiding seafood can be easily overcome with a little education and some resources.
As costs rise at the grocery store for all food it can be difficult to spend extra money on seafood, but seafood can be cost effective with a little planning and knowledge. To get the best buy look at the weekly circular at the grocery store. Often, stores have various seafood on sale that can be less expensive than other choices such as beef. When seafood is on sale buy extra and freeze it for use later or save more expensive choices for special occasions. Eating in season is cost effective for fruits and vegetables and seafood too. Chose fish and seafood that is in season for better pricing options. For example, in the fall in New Jersey swordfish, porgy and bluefish tuna are more seasonal while clams and oyster are available year-round according to the New Jersey seafood availability chart. Trying new options is another great way to save money, especially when purchasing white fish. White fish can is cost effective and be added to soups and stews to make it a better bargain. Check sales, make a meal plan and create a shopping list before going to the store to save money and enjoy seafood as recommended for better health outcomes.
Purchasing seafood that is fresh and well-kept by the fish monger or grocer is important. Be an informed consumer when shopping for any food, doing so will keep you healthy and provide the best taste. Fresh seafood should be displayed on a bed of ice so that you can see what you are purchasing and evaluate its freshness. A bed of ice also keeps the fish at a safe temperature to prevent spoilage. The eyes of fish should be bulged, and the gills should be bright red if the fish is not filleted. When pressed the skin should spring up on the fish. If you are purchasing filets, make sure they are not dry or dark green around the edges. Fillets like whole fish should not be mushy or dry in the center. Fish that is off color or mushy is an indication that the fish is old. When purchasing fresh or filleted seafood it should not have a strong odor either. If you are purchasing shellfish, make sure they are alive. If you tap a clam, it should close which shows its living. If it doesn’t close, then don’t eat it, throw it away and don’t use shellfish if the shell is cracked or broken. Crabs and lobster spoil soon after death so make sure when choosing them there is some movement if they have not been cooked prior to purchasing. When purchasing frozen seafood make sure the packaging is not torn, opened, or crushed. Check for frost or ice crystals on the seafood if it is frozen because this could mean it is old or has been thawed and refrozen. Do not purchase seafood that is stored above the frost line in the case because it may not have been kept at a proper temperature to prevent spoilage. Seafood that is raised in the United States is held to strict standards and despite all the hype about dirty fish farming practices New Jersey seafood is sustainable and healthy to eat.
Storing seafood and preparing it properly will make it tastier and more enjoyable. Fresh seafood can be stored safely in the refrigerator for two days or frozen after purchasing if it is not being used immediately. Seafood that is frozen should be wrapped tightly and then frozen, be sure to label the package with the type of seafood and date. To thaw frozen seafood, put it in the refrigerator overnight on a plate on a lower shelf so it defrosts, and juices don’t drip onto any other foods while it defrosts. It can also be defrosted by running the fish under cold water or in the microwave. To defrost in the microwave, set on the defrost setting until the fish is icy but pliable. To cook seafood, make sure the interior temperature is 145 degrees Fahrenheit by using a meat thermometer in the center of the fish. The flesh on fish should be opaque and separate easily or when cooking scallops, they should be firm and opaque. Shrimp and lobster should be pearly opaque, and mussels, clams and oysters should be cooked until their shells open. Seafood can be prepared by broiling, baking, or grilling. To get the best health benefits from seafood avoid adding large amounts of fat or frying. Be creative with recipes and add seafood to sauces, casseroles and sandwiches and include fresh produce, and herbs for a tasty meal. For cooking videos and recipes that are specific to NJ seafood visit: https://njaes.rutgers.edu/fchs/recipes/
NJ Broiled Scallops & Farro Salad
- Farro or your favorite rice cooked according to package directions
- 1 lb. NJ fresh scallops, rinsed under cool water to remove any sand
- 1 cup chopped celery
- 1 cup chopped onion
- 1 cup chopped red or green pepper
- 1 cup grape or cherry tomatoes cut in half lengthwise
- ½ cup chopped cucumber
- 2 Tablespoons chopped chives or parsley
- Your favorite oil-based salad dressing or 1 Tablespoon Sun Dried Tomato Pesto + 2 Tablespoons olive oil
- Salt & pepper, or your favorite all-purpose seasoning
- To cook Farro: Place 8 cups water in a large saucepan. Rinse 1 cup Farro under cool running water. Add Farro to boiling water then oil (like cooking pasta) for 30 minutes. Drain and set aside to cool in refrigerator.
- Once the Farro is cold add all of the vegetables & herbs, stir in your salad dressing or blended Sun-Dried Tomato Pesto & olive oil. Place the salad in the refrigerator while cooking the scallops.
- To broil scallops: Place rinsed scallops on small foil covered pan broiler pan, drizzle lightly with olive oil and season lightly with your favorite seasoning or a small amount of salt & pepper. Place in broiler on high setting for 8 minutes on one side, then turn the scallops and 5 minutes on the other side. The broiled scallops should be tender!
Serve scallops with the Farro Salad and enjoy!