People are always asking me for quick, delicious, healthy meals that they can make on busy weeknights that the whole family will love. Although that seems like a tall order, I believe this recipe fits the bill. It’s one of my go-to meals because it’s actually deceptively simple to make yet looks elegant enough for company. And kids love it too- in fact, it’s a great way to get them to eat fish.Did you know that The American Heart Association has a dietary guideline recommendation that adults should eat at least two servings (3.5 oz each of cooked fish or ¾ cup flaked fish) of salmon or other omega-3 rich fish per week? How about that the new updated 2010 USDA dietary guidelines also recommend eating two servings (4 oz each) of seafood per week? Until now, the twice-a-week recommendation for seafood was limited to people diagnosed with heart disease; now it’s recommended for everyone.
So why is seafood being emphasized so much? It’s because salmon and other fish like mackerel, herring, lake trout, sardines and albacore tuna have high levels of the omega-3 fatty acids eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), which have incredible health benefits. Our bodies don’t make omega-3s so we must get them from our diet. Here are just a few of the things that omega-3 fatty acids do:
- They are associated with reduced cardiac death. Specifically, they decrease the risk of irregular rhythms, may decrease triglycerides, lower blood pressure, reduce blood clotting, and slow the growth rate of atherosclerotic plaques
- Did your parents always tell you that fish is “brain food”? It turns out they were right! Omega-3s are important for neurological development, especially in fetal development and also in young children; research shows they may improve learning ability in children and may also help reduce the risk of dementia in the elderly
- They reduce inflammation and boost immunity and may reduce the risk of certain types of cancer and improve arthritis symptoms
In addition to all of the health benefits provided by omega-3 fatty acids, salmon is also high in protein and has an abundance of vitamins and minerals including B-complex vitamins, selenium, phosphorus, and potassium. I especially enjoy using wild Alaskan seafood. On top of all of the amazing health benefits, wild Alaskan salmon is a sustainable fish, which means it can be enjoyed relatively guilt-free with regards to the environment.
Alaska’s waters are also among the cleanest in the world. Recently, there have been many concerns about mercury and other contaminants in fish. The amount of contaminants depends on the type of fish and where it’s caught. Fish higher up in the food chain such as shark, swordfish, king mackerel and tilefish tend to have higher levels of mercury because they eat the smaller fish and therefore their levels build up. Industrial pollution can also produce mercury that contaminates water and for this reason every state issues advisories about the safe amount of locally caught fish that can be consumed. Salmon, however, is typically low in mercury.
The updated USDA guidelines state that the benefits of consuming seafood far outweigh the risks, even for pregnant women. For most people, it’s unlikely mercury would cause any serious effects but it is still recommended by the Food and Drug Administration and Environmental Protection Agency that women who are pregnant or nursing and children under 12 should avoid high mercury fish. They can enjoy the heart healthy benefits of salmon and other low mercury fish but should limit their intake to 12 ounces/week and limit albacore tuna to 6 ounces/week.
For those vegetarians out there, don’t worry- you can get omega-3s from supplements, but consult your doctor first as they can have adverse side effects at high doses. Also, certain vegetarian foods such as canola oil, flaxseed, walnuts, broccoli and soybeans contain high levels of alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), another omega-3 that is good for you but hasn’t yet been proven to have the same health benefits as EPA and DHA.
The key to preparing perfect salmon is not overcooking it. I think the best way to cook it is to pan roast it, which is a technique that restaurants use to cook proteins. It involves searing the fish on both sides in a frying pan and then sticking the pan in the oven to finish cooking it. By searing it first, you get a nice, golden crust and it locks in all of the juices, keeping the salmon very moist. It only takes about 5 minutes in the oven- just enough time so that it’s barely cooked through because it will continue to cook a little more once you take it out of the oven. By using this technique, the salmon will be buttery and moist. In the recipe below, I top the salmon with a ginger soy glaze that forms a lovely sweet and savory coating. For a well-rounded meal, I serve this dish with sautéed baby bok choy and brown rice- delish!
- ¼ cup low sodium soy sauce or tamari (if gluten free)
- 3 tablespoons honey
- 1 tsp Dijon mustard
- ½ tsp grated ginger
- ¼ tsp Sriracha hot chili sauce or other hot sauce (optional)
- 2 teaspoons olive oil
- 4 (6-ounce) salmon fillets, preferably wild Alaskan salmon
- Kosher salt and black pepper
- Sliced scallions for garnish (optional)
- Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
- Whisk the soy sauce, honey, mustard, ginger and Sriracha together in a bowl.
- Heat the oil in a large oven-safe saute pan over medium high heat. When the pan is hot, season the salmon fillets with salt and pepper and add them to the pan, presentation side down. Cook 2-3 minutes without moving, until a golden crust forms. Turn the fillets over and transfer the pan to the oven. Cook 5-6 minutes until salmon is just cooked through but still slightly pink in the middle. Carefully remove the pan from the oven and transfer the salmon to a platter.
- Pour off the drippings from the pan and heat the pan on the stove over medium high heat. Add the soy sauce mixture to the pan and cook 2-3 minutes until thickened. Pour the glaze over the salmon. Garnish with scallions if desired.
Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2010 (DGA). Jan. 31, 2011 Accessed at http://www.cnpp.usda.gov/DGAs2010-PolicyDocument.htm