Omega-3’s are fatty acids, important elements in the living cells of plants and animals. There are 3 types of omega-3 fatty acids which our bodies require to be healthy but which we are either unable to make or make too slowly to reach the required levels and so we need to ensure that they are included in our diet.
One type is found in oils within land plant and the other two in plant oils in the marine environment, which are then consumed by certain fish commonly referred to as oily fish ; mackerel, herring, sardines (aka pilchards), sprats, tuna, salmon, trout, and eel. These fish are the athletes of the sea and so require more energy than other types of less active fish, storing this potential energy source as oil along the back and shoulders, but mainly in the red-brown flesh directly beneath the skin on both flanks. The so-called non-oily fish, such as cod and haddock, do have some oil, but it is stored mainly in the liver, which is rarely eaten as it is usually unpalatable. There is also a group of fish referred to as semi-oily ; bass, bream and snapper.
The Omega-3 fatty acids, particularly those from marine sources, are believed to lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels and to reduce the risk of heart disease, type-2 diabetes and to impart mental and psychological benefits. All good reasons for The World Health Organisation to recommend that we consume 1-2 portions of oily fish per week to ensure that our body’s requirements are met. Another good reason is because oily fish are delicious, and although the various types of oily fish have quite distinct flavours and cooking methods are more or less consistent.
Cooking methods and tips
- Pickling, curing, barbequing, grilling, pan frying, deep frying.
- The skin is often left on during cooking to hold the fish together, and may be eaten according to personal taste.
- Due to their high oil content these fish spoil more quickly. Check for freshness when buying, looking out for yellow patches, particularly in the belly area, as this is a bad sign.
- Oily fish are rich in flavour and so can be prepared with just some salt, pepper or an aromatic herb such as thyme.
- Avoid steaming or poaching as these methods are designed to enhance flavours and oily fish have strong flavours anyway.
- Mix with white fish in soups or stews as oily fish tends to overpower other flavours if cooked in liquids.
- Textures are not a problem as with some delicate fish. The flesh is usually tender after cooking but they hold their shape well.
- Citrus fruits and vinegars are often used with oily fish as acids work well with the oil.
Common accompaniments include :
- Wedge of lemon.
- Hot mustard sauce.
- Baked potatoes.
- Grilled tomatoes.
- Sour cream.
Try these oily fish recipes