Frugal Meals: Fish

To me, frugal meals should be healthy, delicious, and contain fresh, seasonal ingredients. If that means spending a little extra to eat well, I will do so, but I don’t go overboard. Because fish is so healthy, I try to make fish for dinner at least twice a week. We generally eat salmon, shrimp, and snapper, although I occasionally buy cod or halibut.

Fish is so flavorful that it doesn’t need heavy side dishes. My favorites are wild rice, brown rice with toasted pine nuts and rehydrated currants, or white rice (rarely). We also usually have salad before the main course, which stretches out the meal so we don’t feel hungry when we’re done.

Yes, Shrimp is Frugal
I keep a bag of frozen shrimp in the freezer at all times. We can get two dinners out of one 16 oz. bag (remember, there are only two of us.) That size bag from Trader Joe’s usually costs around $10, which means $2.50 per person. When you add affordable sides or pasta, the total cost of the meal per person isn’t above $3-4. It’s also great way to boost the protein content of a meal without a lot of effort.

Shrimp cooks in minutes, even from frozen. Just toss it together with some pasta, sauté it with spices, or pour chicken stock in a fondue pot so you can cook it while you eat, and you’ve got a delicious, healthy, affordable dinner in minutes.

Flash Frozen Fish is Frugal, Too
I buy flash frozen fish from Trader Joe’s. They carry wild-caught salmon in reasonable portion sizes at amazing prices – often around $5.99 a pound. Flash frozen fish is frozen at the peak of freshness. I simply defrost it in the fridge overnight and then sauté it or toss it on the Foreman Grill.

Snapper is another favorite in my house. I also buy it flash frozen from Trader Joe’s, and it’s around the same price as the salmon. I’ve discovered that it cooks best in a pan with a little olive oil and butter. It’s too delicate to do well on the Foreman. Just add a dash of lemon juice and toasted slivered almonds, and you have a delicious main course. I love to serve it with brown rice and a simple walnut salad.

On rare occasions, I’ll get cod and make fish and chips. Tyler Florence, of the Food Network, has a fantastic and quick recipe for rice flour fish and chips. It’s light, flaky, and only requires club soda so it’s easy on the budget (assuming you have rice flour on hand, which I always do.) Tartar sauce is easy to throw together with mayo, mustard, lemon juice, and green onions. Don’t bother buying pre-made sauce. Odds are you won’t use it up before it goes bad anyway. Just make a small amount fresh whenever you want it. It makes a lovely topping for pecan salmon or a dipping sauce for salmon fondue nights.

Fresh Fish Is Sometimes Frugal
I’ve found that fresh fish is really affordable if you buy it when it’s in season and buy fish your local markets carry. For some reason, trout is not popular in Southern California, so I don’t eat it here. I could buy it from the fish market, but I don’t leave near one. Driving there would significantly increase the cost. I prefer to buy fresh fish from the fish counter so I can buy exactly the amount I need. Often, they will remove the bones and skin if you ask, and it doesn’t increase the price.

I know many people who don’t believe fish can be part of frugal meals, but if you know how to prepare simple, delicious meals, it can be. Just don’t buy fancy fish! That means no Copper River salmon! Stick to Wild Alaskan and your budget will thank you. If you make a point to eat fish, your heart will, too.

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