One of my fondest memories of visiting Cairo when I was a child was the freshly grilled fish that my uncle would bring back to my grandparents’ house while we were visiting. It was a treat that we didn’t get to experience in the United States. It would arrive wrapped up in paper, steaming hot, only to be enjoyed with “ruz samak” – literal translation rice fish, salad, lemons, (yes, Egyptians and Arabs use a lot of lemons, and I mean A TON) and tahini sauce. Ahhh the memories.
Egypt wasn’t the only place we had fish. My mom made fish at least once a week, I think! Hers were battered in dough and then fried. During high school, college and after getting married I don’t quiet remember eating much fish, salmon fillets and shrimp on occasion. Eating a freshly caught fish wasn’t something we did anymore, and I never really understood why. My idea is that at some point grocery stores stopped carrying fresh fish.
A few years ago, my husband went fishing with a friend and beginner’s luck brought home a fish that we had to clean from head to tail. I remember sending photos of the fish to my friends with his catch. I looked up recipes, asked neighbors how they prepared their fish and took a stab at it. My beginner’s luck was not as good as my husband’s, but this didn’t deter me. I found that Connecticut has fisheries and Whole Foods also carries fresh wild caught fish, so eating a whole fish became a habit in our house, and it is something we’ve grown to love and enjoy regularly.
We typically prepare grill porgies, but have also tried snapper. I don’t fry – primarily because I actually have a fear of frying in my house, but also because it makes everything smell and it’s unhealthy.
For those of you that aren’t aware, fish is one of the healthiest foods in the world because it’s nutrient dense. Typically, fatty fish such as salmon and mackerel are the healthiest, because they’re rich in Vitamin D and contain more omega-3s than other types of fish. Omega-3s contain docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) which is essential for the growth and development of the fetus during pregnancy. Eating a diet that contains fish can lower your risk of heart attacks, strokes, depression, autoimmune diseases, such as type I diabetes, and protect your brain from age-related deterioration. Additionally, fish may protect our eyes as we age, and prevent the development of asthma in children.
Side Note: For those fasting this Ramadan, fish is one of the ten sunnah foods and gets overlooked easily. It can improve quality of sleep, and since we get so little sleep during Ramadan, this makes it a great iftar food!
My favorite aspect of preparing fish, is that it is easy! When purchasing fish from grocery stores, I highly recommend purchasing wild caught fish, as it eats it’s a diet natural to its habitat, and fish that hasn’t been frozen because then that fishy taste isn’t frozen in then defrosted. I marinate my fish in lemon and onion slices, crushed garlic, herbs such as cilantro and parsley, and spices including cumin, salt, black pepper, and lemon pepper. Although we typically don’t serve it with rice, we do serve it with a chickpea salad, and tahini. Look out for those recipes to be added soon!