We all know fish is good food. It's loaded with protein and contains less fat and cholesterol than most lean meats; many varieties also provide those excellent omega-3 essential fatty acids.

But all the worry about hidden toxins and overfishing of certain species may leave any seafood lover wondering if it's really such a catch after all.

Happy news: There's no need to scale back on your intake. Recent studies published in the Journal of the American Medical Association and The Lancet indicate that the benefits of eating seafood — including a lower likelihood of heart disease, cancer, and other diseases — far outweigh any potential risks from toxins. And environmental watchdog groups can help you pick the best options for the planet's health, too, based on your geographic location and the most current sustainability information. (See “Fishing for Answers,” page 45.) These recipes feature fish and shellfish that get high-water marks on health and sustainability, so set aside your worries and enjoy these gifts from the sea.

Lime-Scented Bay Scallops on Linguine

Serves 4 / A light dish that's perfect for a simple dinner. Serving tip: Accompany with a salad of endive and radicchio tossed with lemon juice and olive oil.

8 ounces linguine

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

2 tablespoons olive oil

½ cup minced shallots

2 small Serrano peppers, seeded and finely minced

1 pound bay scallops, rinsed and patted dry

4 tablespoons lime juice

  1. Cook pasta in boiling water until al dente, about 8 minutes. Drain. Place in a serving bowl and keep warm.
  2. While pasta is cooking, in a large skillet, heat butter and olive oil over medium-high heat. Sauté shallots, peppers, and scallops, stirring frequently, until scallops are tender, about 3 minutes. Add lime juice and cook for 1 minute longer. Using a slotted spoon, transfer scallops to pasta bowl. Bring sauce to a boil and cook for 1 minute to slightly reduce. Season with salt and pepper. Pour sauce over scallops and cooked pasta; toss and serve.

PER SERVING: 430 cal, 32% fat cal, 15g fat, 6g sat fat, 83mg chol, 28g protein, 46g carb, 1g fiber, 207mg sodium

Pan-Seared Tilapia with Blackberry Sauce

Serves 4 / A fresh, fruity sauce enhances the earthy sweetness of the spiced fish. Prep tips: You can substitute rainbow trout or another white fish. For the sauce, experiment with other fruit combinations, such as raspberries, mangoes, or peaches.

1 10-ounce package frozen blackberries, partially thawed

3 tablespoons honey

2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

⅓ cup dry white wine

Pinch of salt

½ teaspoon salt

2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

2 teaspoons ground cumin

¼-½ teaspoon cayenne pepper

½ teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper

4 5- to 6-ounce tilapia fillets, skin removed, rinsed and patted dry

1 tablespoon olive oil

  1. In a medium saucepan, combine blackberries, honey, vinegar, wine, and a pinch of salt. Mash berries lightly with a fork. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer, uncovered, about 8 minutes, until sauce is slightly thickened.
  2. While sauce cooks, in a small bowl combine ½ teaspoon salt, cinnamon, cumin, cayenne, and black pepper. Gently rub both sides of tilapia fillets with spice mixture.
  3. In a large skillet, heat olive oil over medium-high. Sauté fish 2-3 minutes, until golden, then turn and sauté 2-4 minutes longer, until cooked through. Transfer to serving plates and top with blackberry sauce. Serve immediately.

PER SERVING (with ¼ cup sauce): 252 cal, 18% fat cal, 5g fat, 1g sat fat, 69mg chol, 27g protein, 26g carb, 5g fiber, 346mg sodium

Broiled Sardines with Fennel and Olives

Serves 8 / Serving tips: This Mediterranean classic makes a marvelous appetizer on crostini or any toasted bread. Or toss with cooked linguini and top with shredded Asiago cheese for a fast entrée — not your ordinary dinner!

2 tablespoons olive oil

4 medium cloves garlic, minced

½-1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes

1 medium fennel bulb (about 12 ounces), very thinly sliced

2 4-ounce cans skinless, boneless sardines packed in water, drained, halved lengthwise

⅔ cup pitted kalamata olives, rinsed and drained

2 tablespoons minced fresh parsley

  1. Preheat broiler. In a medium bowl, combine olive oil, garlic, and crushed red pepper. Add fennel slices and mix with fingers to coat.
  2. Arrange sardines in a 9×13-inch baking dish. Scatter olives around sardines. Scatter fennel slices over sardines and olives. Broil on middle rack for 6-8 minutes. Remove from oven and stir to mix. Season with salt and pepper, and sprinkle with minced parsley. Serve at once.

PER SERVING: 145 cal, 65% fat cal, 11g fat, 1g sat fat, 18mg chol, 9g protein, 5g carb, 2g fiber, 130mg sodium


Food and nutrition writer Lisa Turner learned to catch fish when she was 5 years old, but she still won't eat sushi.

BAKED COD IN LEMONGRASS-COCONUT SAUCE

2 small Thai peppers, seeded and minced

2 stalks lemongrass, tough outer leaves removed, minced

1 large clove garlic, minced

½ cup chopped fresh cilantro

Juice of 2 limes

6 tablespoons coconut cream

2 teaspoons pure maple syrup

Pinch of white pepper

1 2-inch piece fresh ginger, unpeeled, coarsely grated

4 11-inch-square banana leaves or parchment paper

4 6-ounce cod fillets

  1. Preheat oven to 400°. In a bowl, combine Thai peppers, lemongrass, garlic, cilantro, lime juice, coconut cream, maple syrup, and white pepper. Squeeze grated ginger into the bowl to extract juice; discard ginger solids.
  2. Place banana leaves or parchment papers on a large, rimmed baking sheet. Spoon a little of the lemongrass sauce in the center of each leaf or sheet of paper. Place fish on top, then spoon remaining sauce over fish. Fold top and bottom sides over fish, overlapping; fold in remaining sides, forming a square packet around each fillet. Using a strip of foil, crimp top two edges together to keep each packet from unfolding. Slip a thin strip of banana leaf (or a piece of kitchen string) under and around each packet and tie in a bow or square knot.
  3. Bake 25-30 minutes, depending on thickness. Remove from oven. Transfer packets to serving plates and carefully remove foil seals, leaving string intact (as decoration). Serve hot.

PER SERVING: 222 cal, 25% fat cal, 6g fat, 5g sat fat, 63mg chol, 32g protein, 10g carb, 1g fiber, 566mg sodium

WILD SALMON WITH WASABI-AVOCADO SAUCE

2 medium cloves garlic

1 large, very ripe avocado, pitted and peeled

1 tablespoon canola mayonnaise

1 tablespoon lemon juice

2-3 tablespoons nonfat milk

¼-½ teaspoon wasabi powder

1 tablespoon sesame oil

4 5-ounce wild salmon fillets, rinsed, patted dry

2 tablespoons black sesame seeds

¼ cup low-sodium tamari

1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil

½ cup water

  1. Mince garlic in a food processor. Add avocado, mayonnaise, lemon juice, 2 tablespoons milk, and wasabi powder; purée until creamy, adding remaining milk if needed. Season with salt and pepper. Transfer to a glass bowl, cover, and refrigerate. (Makes about ¾ cup.)
  2. In a medium skillet, heat sesame oil until very hot. Place salmon in pan, skin-side up, and cook until lightly browned, about 1½ minutes. Turn fillets over and sprinkle with sesame seeds. Add tamari, toasted sesame oil, and water to pan. Cover and cook over medium heat for 7-10 minutes, until just cooked through, adding more water if needed. Remove from pan, arrange on serving plates, and drizzle with sauce. Serve immediately.

PER SERVING (with 1 tablespoon sauce): 329 cal, 52% fat cal, 19g fat, 3g sat fat, 64mg chol, 35g protein, 5g carb, 2g fiber, 684mg sodium

PECAN-CRUSTED CATFISH WITH REMOULADE

2 tablespoons olive oil, divided

4 4- to 5-ounce catfish fillets, skin removed, rinsed and patted dry

¾ cup finely chopped pecans

2 tablespoons canola mayonnaise

2 tablespoons Dijon mustard

2 tablespoons ketchup

⅛ teaspoon cayenne pepper

1 tablespoon capers, chopped

1 ½ teaspoons dried tarragon

1 shallot, minced

Minced fresh parsley, for garnish

  1. Preheat oven to 450°. Rub 1 tablespoon olive oil into catfish fillets. Sprinkle with salt and pepper (use cayenne pepper if desired). Coat a 9×13-inch baking dish with remaining 1 tablespoon oil. Arrange fish in baking dish and top with pecans, pressing gently. Cover with foil and bake for 15 minutes. Remove foil and bake for an additional 5-10 minutes, or until cooked through.
  2. While fish is baking, in a small bowl, combine mayonnaise, mustard, ketchup, cayenne pepper, capers, tarragon, and shallots; stir to mix well.
  3. Place each fillet on a serving plate. Top with sauce, garnish with minced parsley, and serve at once.

PER SERVING (with 1 tablespoon sauce): 350 cal, 69% fat cal, 28g fat, 3g sat fat, 67mg chol, 23g protein, 5g carb, 2g fiber, 241mg sodium

Fishing for answers

Get up-to-date information on environmentally sound seafood choices by visiting the Monterey Bay Aquarium's Seafood Watch website, www.seafoodwatch.org; you can even print out a pocket-size buying guide. Oceans Alive, www.oceansalive.org, tells you the best (and worst) seafood picks based on nutrients, contaminants, and sustainability concerns.
-L.T.

At your market

Forward-thinking companies now offer easy-prep meals that feature ecofriendly fish and shellfish. Options include Blue Horizon Organic Seafood's tasty, ready-in-minutes frozen pasta dinners with shellfish; and Henry & Lisa's Natural Seafood, with kid-friendly fish nuggets, vacuum-packed and premarinated salmon fillets, and more.
-E.B.