Seafood for the Holidays cover

Seafood for the Holidays

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The holiday season is upon us, which means it’s time to loosen our belts and get our bodies ready for large holiday dinners. If you’re looking for more excuses to eat this holiday season…or better yet…a feast that is good for you and good for the planet, we have five words for you: Feast of the Seven Fishes.
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Seafood for the Holidays

Celebrated on December 24, Feast of the Seven Fishes is an Italian-American tradition of fasting before the holidays. Today, it has morphed into a celebration in which you abstain from red meat the night before Christmas—hence the seafood. There are plenty of reasons to eat more seafood. It is among the healthiest proteins on the planet!

Research has shown that eating more seafood can reduce the risk of heart disease, improve brain development and function, help build muscle and tissues, and may reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease. The U.S. government recommends that Americans eat at least two servings of about 4 ounces of seafood per week, but Americans are not eating enough.

Seafood can also be produced with fewer environmental impacts compared to beef, pork, and chicken. Let this occasion be an excuse for you to try out some new seafood and see how it suits your palate.

Here are some healthy and responsible seafood options to inspire your Feast of Seven Fishes menu:

Herring – Herrings are fish from the same family as sardines, which are expected to become a major food trend in 2017. However, the Pacific sardine fishery is currently closed and poor management causing concern over the sustainability of Atlantic sardines from the Mediterranean.

Herrings are an environmentally responsible and nutrient-rich alternative. They are a great source of low-fat protein and are high in nutrients such as vitamin B12, omega-3 fatty acids, and iron. Look for herring from well-managed U.S. fisheries. Pacific and Atlantic herring from Canada are also a responsible seafood choice.

Pacific sanddab, Citharichthys sordidus

Sanddab - The sand dab is a popular delicacy for seafood connoisseurs in California, particularly along the central and north coasts, where it is caught in local waters. A small flatfish, it is described as having a rich, buttery, and nutty flavor with a moist and delicate yet firm texture. Sand dabs are a breeze to prepare using common cooking techniques such as a sautéing, grilling, or baking.

California spiny lobster - Most people associate lobsters with their humongous red claws. But did you know that we Californians have our own lobster right in our backyard? The California spiny lobster has spines instead of claws, which means that most of its meat comes from the tail. Even though these lobsters don’t have claws, they tend to have more meat than their American lobster counterparts.

California spiny lobster is in season from October to March. Spiny lobsters are a good source of protein and selenium. Lobster can be enjoyed in a variety of ways, including baked, boiled, and grilled. Spiny lobsters are a great local option, caught by local fishermen from Santa Barbara to Baja California, Mexico.

Sablefish - Sablefish, or black cod, is flavorful because of its high oil content. It is known for its flakey, melt-in-your-mouth meat, earning them the nickname butterfish. It is very high in omega-3 fatty acids—almost as much as salmon!

Sablefish is a great seafood choice for even novice chefs because its high oil content makes it relatively resilient to overcooking, and there is no need for fancy sauces or breading since it has great natural flavor. Try it baked or sautéed. Sablefish is another great local seafood option that is caught along the U.S. West Coast and off the coast of Southern California. It is available year-round.

An Almaco jack caught by a recreational fisherman

Kampachi - Also known as almaco jack, kampachi is a fish belonging to the same family as yellowtail and amberjack. It has a sweet, buttery flavor with a firm texture and is high in lean protein and omega-3 fatty acids. The culinary possibilities are endless with this fish, which can be prepared in a variety of ways from raw recipes, such as sashimi and poke recipes, to cooked. It is available year round. Look for responsibly farmed kampachi from Hawaii.

Oysters - Most oysters come from farmed sources and have become part of popular cuisine culture, as evidenced by the resurgence of oyster bars across the United States.

There are environmental benefits that come from growing oysters and other bivalves (mussels, scallops, clams, etc.).Because they are filter feeders, they provide ecosystem services by removing excess nutrients found in coastal areas due to multiple sources of land runoff. Because they get all the nutrients they need from the water, no additional feed is added for them to grow.

Full of protein, omega-3 fatty acids, and essential vitamins like B vitamins, oysters can be enjoyed cooked or raw. Oysters generally taste briny, but flavors vary distinctly depending on the region the oysters are collected from due to “merroir,” or the characteristics of the sea that affect the taste of its food—so have fun tasting the variety of oysters available to find one that best suits your taste.

Seaweed - Seaweed is a vegetarian-friendly seafood! It is commonly overlooked as a viable seafood option, but its popularity is gaining among chefs, conservationists, and health aficionados. Since it’s a photosynthetic organism, seaweed gets its food from sunlight, just as plants on land do. Recent studies suggest that it may also remove some of the excess carbon emissions from the atmosphere.

The spotlight on seaweed is only going to get brighter as scientists also investigate its viability as an alternative form of animal feed. It is even projected to become a superfood among the ranks of kale and açaí due to its vast quantity of antioxidants, minerals (namely iodine), and protein (as much as 25 percent). Seaweed can be enjoyed raw in salads, which will taste slimy and salty, or cooked to a crunchy crisp. There is even a type of seaweed that tastes like bacon when it’s cooked.

For tips on preparing seafood at home, check out our article, “How to prepare and cook seafood at home and stop fearing the fish!”

Aquarium of the Pacific