Cooking Techniques: Fish

Wonder twins activate!

If you are of a certain generation in the U.S., you probably grew up watching the Hanna Barbera Saturday morning Super Heroes cartoon. In this particular cartoon, all the super heroes are working together to save the world, and the wonder twins are a boy and girl team whose powers must be activated by the two of them connecting in a certain way.  When they do, they become one unit which is better equipped to fight evil than if they had remained separate.

I thought about this the other day when a mom wrote in about my last super foods post, asking whether I had any suggestions for how to get her children to like fish. In my experience folks tend to either like or not like fish, but I do believe there are ways to get your children to tolerate fish. The trick is to combine ingredients in such a way that they become something better than the fish by itself.

Some Suggestions:

1. Coat the fish: Most children will eat fish sticks, but storebought fish sticks aren’t necessarily the healthiest and while they do make gluten free versions now, they don’t always meet other allergy needs. You can, however, make your own coating for fish. Use the type of wholegrain bread which fits your dietary and allergy needs and simply process them in your food processor to make bread crumbs. The best crumbs are flavored, so add fresh or dried herbs of your choosing and/or garlic and/or onions and black pepper as you’re zooping the bread crumbs.

The healthiest way to cook breaded fish is to bake it in the oven. If you crinkle up aluminium foil and use it to cover a shallow baking pan, your fish won’t stick the way it would otherwise. Coat the aluminium foil with a little bit of a healthy plant oil like olive oil before placing your breaded fish onto the pan.

For the fish itself, you can use beaten whole eggs or egg whites or a type of milk as your liquid for which the breading can stick to. I recommend double coating your fish for the best adhesion and taste. You can either double coat it with the bread crumbs or what I prefer is to coat the fish first with flour such as garbanzo bean or sorghum or gluten free oatmeal which I’ve mixed with some herbs and black pepper, and then I coat it with the bread crumb mixture.

After your fish is laid out on the pan, use a brush to lightly coat the top with olive oil so you’ll get that nice crunchy texture that kids tend to like.

The best way to bake the fish is at a high temperature such as 400 or 425 degrees for a shorter length of time. Most fish bakes in less than 10 minutes, as long as they’re not too thick.

When serving the fish, you can make up sauces for your children to dip with whether it’s a fancy homemade ketchupy type or a tartarish sauce or a yogurty, fruity type. If you have a few options, you increase the chances of your child finding a combination he or she likes.

2. Glaze the fish: The most common complaint folks tend to make about fish is that it’s fishy, so when making fish for children, you want to give them a different flavor that they can taste instead.

One of my children’s favorite glazes for fish is simply a mixture of soy sauce, agave, garlic, onions, and ginger. I mix the glaze well and let the fish marinate in the sauce for at least half an hour in the fridge. Then I either bake the fish, broil it, or grill it. Broiling or grilling the fish will allow the sauce to cook directly onto the fish. Baking it will make a liquidy sauce which you can spoon over the fish when serving.

You can experiment with different types of glazes. Maybe your children prefer something fruity and you could use an all fruit jam as a glaze. Maybe you like the taste of balsamic vinegar and want to make a glaze with that. Use your children’s taste buds as your guide.

3. Top the fish: If your children don’t really like fish but love salsa or spinach dip or tartar sauce, put it on top of the fish you cooked so that your children are eating something they like with something they’re not as fond of.

My children love when I put a roasted eggplant dip onto broiled fish. I make this dip where I chop up one eggplant into one inch pieces, mix it with a little bit of olive oil, and roast it for 10 minutes at 500 degrees, turning once or twice during the cooking time. I then puree the roasted eggplant with minced garlic and onion, black pepper, and one 14 oz can of diced tomatoes, preferably fire roasted but sometimes just plain or the versions which have herbs or garlic and onions mixed in.

When the fish is done broiling, I put as much of the eggplant dip as each child wants on top of the fish, and they love it.

When making a topping for your children, think about what they like. If they like salsa, experiment with different types of salsas, whether store-bought or homemade. I like to make a pineapple salsa where I simply puree up tomatoes, pineapple, onions, garlic, peppers, fresh cilantro and cumin. Sometimes we use mangoes or peaches instead. All are tasty on fish.

4. Stuff the fish: My children like stuffed fish because then you taste more of the stuffing than the fish. You can use leftover actual stuffing. You can cook up a mixture of spinach and vegetables with herbs and a type of cheese. You can even stuff the fish with fruits like dried figs or sauteed apples.

There are couple of ways to stuff fish. The traditional way is to put the stuffing ingredients on the fish and then to roll the fish up around the stuffing. Another way is to layer some fish in a pan, top with the stuffing mixture, and then top the stuffing mixture with a second layer of fish. Either way works. For both, simply bake in the oven until the fish is fork tender, usually about 20-30 minutes. For fish which is stuffed, I suggest baking at a lower temperature like 350 or 375 degrees.

5. Sauce the fish: You can top fish with just about any type of sauce. Tomato sauce, a white sauce, a cheese sauce, a spinach sauce, a tartar sauce – whatever your children prefer. One of the ways my children like to eat fish is when I bake it with a pureed, saucy salsa with cheese sprinkled on top.

Another way is when I make up a spinach sauce where I whisk 2 cups of soy milk with 1/4 cup of sorghum flour and slowly cook it over low heat until it thickens. Then I add 10 oz thawed frozen spinach, garlic, onions, oregano, and thyme. When the spinach has begun to warm, I add a couple tablespoons of Tofutti dairy free cream cheese. It makes a wonderful sauce for just about any type of white fish.

The key to getting your children to eat fish is to find something which they like to pair with the fish. Then the fish becomes more than just fish to their taste buds.