Thursday, March 22, 2012

Whole Foods: Great fish at a good price

Hake with Hazelnut Sauce
Hake with Hazelnut Sauce (Photo credit: Joanna Petrova)

Editor's note: Today's bill of fare includes a wonderful fish called hake and two easy ways to prepare it, a brief discussion of the phrase "all natural" and a comparison of prices at Whole Foods, Fairway, Costco and ShopRite.

I spend most of my food dollars at Costco Wholesale and ShopRite, but stop regularly at Whole Foods, H Mart and Fairway to take advantage of their sales.

On Monday, Whole Foods Market in Paramus had fresh, wild-caught hake on sale for $7.99 a pound -- about what I pay for haddock, cod and flounder fillets at Costco in Hackensack.

Not too many years ago, hake was a popular fish in Europe that would show up occasionally on Manhattan restaurant menus. In Spain, it is called "merluza."

Last year, I bought hake fillets at Whole Foods for as low as $5.99 a pound -- a bargain considering what a great eating fish this is.

Even at $9.99 a pound, the regular price, this North Atlantic fish would be a good buy because Whole Foods is the only supermarket I know that gets fresh fish 7 days a week from its own processing facility, Pigeon Cove in Gloucester, Mass.

Red hake
Red hake (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Preparing hake couldn't be simpler. I had my 2.04-pound fillet cut into six pieces, 1 inch to 2 inches thick. Hake is a meaty fish that flakes beautifully.

You can open a can of organic diced tomatoes, add extra-virgin olive oil, dried herbs and red-pepper flakes, plus fresh lime juice and red or white wine. Sprinkle a little salt on the fish, add it to the heated sauce, cover and cook.

Fillets up to 1 inch take about 15 to 20 minutes. Thicker fillets should cook in about 30 minutes. You can serve them with pasta or rice and a salad.

Hake with chili spices

Another way to prepare hake is to coat it in a combination of breadcrumbs and spices from Wick Fowler's 2-Alarm Chili Kit (except the masa flour). I keep a container in the refrigerator and add black sesame seeds and other spices periodically.

If you eat meat, you'll love this chili-spice breading with chicken, beef, pork or lamb.

Again, sprinkle a little salt on the fillets and press them into the spice mixture, coating all sides. On Monday night, I prepared all six pieces this way, roasting them in the oven for 30 minutes at 350 degrees.

With either cooking method, when the fillets start coming apart or flaking, they are close to being ready. 

My wife raved, saying the fish tasted really fresh. The next night, we split one leftover fillet.

Pasta with sardines

We served it with whole-wheat pasta in a sauce of chopped sweet pepper, fresh tomato, garlic and sardines in oil -- plus olive oil, red pepper flakes, anchovies in oil, and a small can of tomato sauce.

On Monday, I also found frozen oxtails in Whole Foods' meat department freezer for $6.99 a pound. compared to $6.29 a pound for conventional oxtails at Fairway Market in Paramus. 

Unlike Fairway, Whole Foods only sells beef from cattle raised on vegetarian feed, without antibiotics or growth hormones.

I charged the Whole Foods hake and oxtails to a registered American Express card, earning a $10 statement credit on the $50-plus order.

Oxtails refund

On the same day I brought the oxtails home, I received a refund check for $18.68 from Cargill Meat Solutions for Rumba-brand oxtails from Costco that we cooked and found to have too much fat and bones.

At Fairway Market on Tuesday, I picked up three sales items: four kinds of Fairway pasta sauce at 2 for $6, regularly $4.49 each; Golden Pineapples at 2 for $4, and 1-pound containers of Sunset-brand Campari tomatoes at 2 for $3.

Fairway pasta sauce comes in 32-ounce bottles, compared to 24 to 25 ounces for most other brands. You can pay up to $8.49 for a bottle of Rao's pasta sauce, but why would you throw the money away?

I usually add a can of anchovies to bottled pasta sauce for robustness, but you don't actually taste those salty little fillets. Red pepper flakes, garlic powder, non-salt seasoning -- all of it can improve a $3 bottle of marinara.

Recycled excuses

Just when I think Fairway might be growing on me, an employee does something stupid, like the clerk who literally threw everything I bought, including the glass bottles with the pasta sauce, into a single reusable bag, even though I put two on the counter.

And, of course, let's not forget New York-based Fairway is the only supermarket that doesn't give you credit for a reusable bag. 

Basically, the owners don't care if they trash New Jersey's environment with their plastic bags, nor do they take back those bags for recycling, as does ShopRite.

Now, Fairway plans to open a second store in Woodland Park, meaning there will be thousands of additional plastic bags on the loose.

'All-Natural' brown eggs

At ShopRite in Englewood, I found a dozen Land O' Lakes All-Natural Extra Large Brown Eggs on sale for $2.50, but cut that to $1.5o with a 50-cent coupon that was doubled at the register. 

These eggs demonstrate the meaninglessness of the phrase "all natural," which has no set of standards, unlike "organic."

The Land O' Lakes carton mentions the chickens' vegetarian feed contains no growth hormones or animal byproducts, but is silent on whether they receive antibiotics in their water. 

Costco v. ShopRite
My wife bought a 5-pound bag of carrots at ShopRite for $3.49 -- 50 cents less than usual -- but at Costco, a 10-pound bag of Earthbound Farms organic carrots is $6.99.

She also bought Readington Farms antibiotic-free chicken -- drumsticks, thighs and a whole fryer -- but none of it was on sale. ShopRite routinely discounts Perdue, Tyson and other inferior, drug-filled chicken.

At Costco today, Kirkland Signature frozen, wild-caught Alaskan Sockeye Salmon was $27.99 or about $9.30 a pound. A 10-pound box of sweet potatoes was $6.99. Three pounds of bananas were $1.39 or about 46 cents a pound, lower than any other store.

Two 96-ounce bottles of Apple & Eve Organic Lemonade were $7.69. An attractive, BPA-free set of 16 plastic glasses and tumblers in four colors was $19.99. 

Using and hand-washing plastic glasses and plates (for cold food) helps us cut down on use of the dishwasher.

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