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Bluefish
Why Eat It
Availability
Shopping
Storage
Preparation
Nutrition Chart


Why Eat It

Although its exceptionally rich flavor has given bluefish a "high-fat" reputation, it actually has less than 5 grams of fat per 3-ounce cooked serving. But, on the other hand, for a not-so-fat fish, it is a surprisingly abundant source of disease-fighting omega-3 fatty acids. Like most fish, bluefish is an excellent source of protein and supplies good amounts of B vitamins.

It's important to note that large bluefish (over 6 pounds) are more likely to have a higher concentration of industrial pollutants, such as PCBs. It's rare to find bluefish this big in the market (although it would be wise to ask the fishmonger if the piece of bluefish you are about to buy seems particularly large). Sports fishermen should know that there are health advisories about eating more than 8 ounces of large bluefish a week. If you are concerned, be sure to not eat the skin or the fatty layer just below the skin.

Availability

The bluefish you'll find in the market average 3 to 6 pounds. They are sold whole (just as they were caught); dressed (whole, but slit open, gutted, and scaled, with the fins, head and tail removed); and as fillets (the meaty sides of the fish, cut away from the bones).

Shopping

When buying bluefish (or any fish), quality can be judged by sight, smell, and touch. The shop or fish department should look clean, with fish displayed on top of clean ice (with metal trays or sheets of paper or plastic to protect fillets or steaks from direct contact). You should smell only a saltwater scent, not a "fishy," sour, or ammonia-like odor. When buying prepackaged fish, take a closer sniff: Off-odors will penetrate the plastic. Note the date on the label and don't place total faith in it--ask the dealer when the fish was packaged.

Whole fresh bluefish should have tight, shiny scales, and should not feel slippery or slimy. The eyes should be bright and clear, not clouded or sunken in their sockets. Gills should be clean and tinged with pink or red, never brownish or sticky. The surface of a fillet should look freshly cut, and the bluefish should not be sitting in a pool of liquid. (Prepackaged fish should not contain excess liquid, either.) The flesh should look moist, slightly translucent, and dense, not flaky, or cracked. Pass up steaks or fillets that are dried out at the edges.

Whether whole or cut, fresh bluefish is firm and resilient: If you poke it with your finger, the flesh should spring back, not remain indented.

Storage

It's best to use bluefish within a day of buying it, although it can be kept an extra day if it is of very high quality and was very fresh when purchased. Whole or dressed fish will keep longer than fillets.

Rinse and rewrap the fish when you get it home. Place it on paper towels in a clean plastic bag or tightly covered container and store in the coldest part of the refrigerator. Or, place the fish in a heavy plastic bag and set it in a pan of ice.

Preparation

Bluefish can be just as easy to prepare as chicken breasts. If you buy dressed fish, fillets, or steaks, there is virtually no additional preparation necessary. Just rinse the fish quickly (or dip it briefly in cold water), then pat it dry before cooking. Always check for bones remaining in a fillet (this is likely with roundfish) by running your finger across the fillet; if you feel the tips of any bones, pull them out with tweezers.

To thaw frozen bluefish, place it in the refrigerator overnight; do not thaw it at room temperature as it may be subject to bacterial contamination.

As with raw meat or poultry, thoroughly wash all surfaces and utensils (and your hands) used to prepare raw fish. Be particularly careful not to bring other cooked food into contact with raw fish or with utensils that were used to prepare it.

Don't marinate at room temperature; place the fish and marinade in the refrigerator.

With the risk of bacterial and parasite contamination, it's important to cook all seafood properly . This doesn't mean it should be overcooked, however. Bluefish is delicate, and if overcooked it will be dry and tough. Bluefish should be cooked long enough for safety but not beyond the point of moistness and tenderness.

The "10-minute rule" is a standard guide to cooking times devised by the Canadian Fisheries and Marine Service. Simply measure the fish at its thickest point and cook it for 10 minutes per inch of thickness. There are a few modifications: If the fish is stuffed, measure it after stuffing; double the time if the fish is frozen; and add 5 minutes if the fish is cooked in a sauce. Turn the fish (except thin fillets) halfway through the cooking time. (The Canadian rule does not apply to microwave cooking, which is much faster than conventional methods.)

Even when applying this rule, it helps to be familiar with the appearance of properly cooked fish as an additional doneness test. The flesh should be just opaque: not translucent, but not chalky. The flesh will be firm and moist. When probed with a knife tip, the fish should barely flake--if it flakes too easily and falls apart, the fish is already overcooked. Fish will continue to cook by retained heat even after it is removed from the pan or the oven, so it may be best to stop cooking it when it is just a shade underdone.

Use the Canadian rule (and the visual checks described above) for calculating cooking times, using any of the following methods. Remember that frozen fish need not be thawed before cooking as long as you allow for the extra cooking time.

Baking: Bluefish can be baked dressed and stuffed, in fillets, steaks, or in large chunks. Cover the fish with vegetables or sauce, bake it atop a bed of chopped vegetables, or baste it during cooking. Line the baking pan with foil for easier removal of the fish, which may stick to the pan, or use a nonstick pan. Bake in a preheated 400°F to 450°F oven.

Broiling/grilling: Cut in steaks, cubes, or fillets at least 3/4" thick, bluefish is a good choice for broiling or grilling. Whole fish can also be successfully grilled. Whether grilling or broiling, position the rack so the fish is 4" to 6" from the heat source. You can rub it with a spice or herb mixture before grilling. Remember, bluefish is a rich, assertive fish and can take a strong, flavorful rub.

To eliminate the danger of the fish falling apart when you turn it, grill whole fish in a special hinged basket. Also useful for grilling are special grill racks made of a metal sheet perforated with small holes (rather than those made of widely-spaced wires). Give any grill or broiler rack a liberal coating of nonstick cooking spray before grilling fish, and preheat it before placing the fish on it. You can also grill fish on top of a perforated sheet of foil in a covered barbecue.

Microwaving: The microwave is the answer for people who think cooking seafood is complicated or tricky. You can microwave plain fillets or steaks instead of pan-poaching them. Arrange fillets in a covered microwavable dish with thicker portions to the outside for even cooking. Rotate the dish halfway through the cooking time.

Check the fish for doneness before the recommended cooking time has elapsed (especially with an unfamiliar recipe): You can always cook it more, but there's nothing to be done if the fish is overcooked. Remove the fish from the oven when the edges are opaque but the center is still slightly translucent; let it stand for the indicated time after microwaving so it can continue cooking from retained heat. Test again after the standing time elapses, and return the fish to the microwave if it is not fully cooked throughout.

Poaching: This gentle cooking method can be used for bluefish steaks, fillets, or whole fish. Poach fish by immersing in a pan of simmering fish stock, a mixture of water and lemon juice or wine. (Although you can improvise a poaching pan by using a roasting pan and a roasting rack, the most efficient equipment is a fish poacher--a long, narrow pan fitted with a removable rack--for large whole fish.) Bring the liquid to a gentle simmer, partially cover the pan, and poach until the fish is opaque. Or, place the fish in already-simmering liquid and continue as described.

Sauteing: Fillets are good sauteed. A light coating of crumbs or flour (dip the fish in milk first to help the coating adhere) or a cornstarch dredge will give the fish a crisp crust and help hold it together during cooking. Use a nonstick pan liberally sprayed with cooking spray or brushed with oil; heat the pan, then add the fish. Cook, turning once (turn carefully to avoid breaking the fish) until the fish is lightly browned on the outside and it tests done on the inside. Remove the fish from the pan promptly.

Steaming: Whether whole, steaks, or fillets, bluefish is also a candidate for steaming--and since the fish is not immersed in cooking liquid, it retains more of its natural flavor. You can also cook flavorful vegetables along with the fish and serve with a well-seasoned sauce. Use 1" to 2 " of water as the cooking liquid, to which you can add fresh herbs such as fennel or dill. Bring the water to a boil, place the fish in the steamer, cover the pot tightly, and steam the fish until it tests done.

Stir-frying: Chunks of bluefish can be stir-fried as you would chicken or beef. Lightly coat the fish in cornstarch before frying. Watch the cooking time carefully, or the seafood will overcook and toughen. It's a good idea to stir-fry the fish first, then cook any vegetables or other ingredients. Return the seafood to the pan and toss it quickly to reheat it just before serving.

Nutrition Chart

Bluefish/3 ounces broiled

136
Total fat (g)
4.7
Saturated fat (g)
1
Monounsaturated fat (g)
2
Polyunsaturated fat (g)
1.2
Omega-3s (g)
0.7
Dietary fiber (g)
0
22
Carbohydrate (g)
0
Cholesterol (mg)
65
Sodium (mg)
66
Niacin (mg)
6.2
Vitamin B6 (mg)
0.4
Vitamin B12 (mcg)
5.3
Phosphorus (mg)
250
Selenium (mcg)
40


Date Published: 04/19/2005
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