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" How is fish different from other meat, and how does this difference affect fish when it's cooked? "

Dear Anne and Sue,

I know fish and meat are both proteins, but their structures seem quite different. Could you explain, please, how fish and meat differ and how this difference affects the way fish cooks?



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Dear Patricia,

The amount of protein in a specific cut of meat will vary according to the proportions of lean tissue, bone, and fat. While the protein content of fish and meat are each approximately 15% to 20%, there’s less difference among the other factors in fish, though fat content does vary according to the species.

Fat in most fish is invisible, intermingled with the tissues as oil. High-fat fish are more distinctive in flavor than lean ones because their flavors are dissolved in their fish oils. In contrast, fat in meat generally surrounds the muscles and is often removed, though it is visible in some cuts of meat as marbling (white lines that look a little like a road map or a river delta).
The structures of fish and meat are similar in that they both have muscle fibers and connective tissues. In meat, connective tissue binds together bundles of fibers within the muscle, surrounds the individual muscles, and attaches muscle to bone. Fish has shorter muscle fibers and less connective tissue than meat, and the connective tissue is more delicate and positioned differently. In fish, connective tissues lie mainly in thin sheets that separate orderly layers of muscle fibers.

This combination of factors—less and more tender connective tissue and shorter muscle fibers—is why fish cooks more quickly. Connective tissues in fish are also transformed to gelatin at a much lower temperature than the connective tissues in meat. As fish’s connective tissues dissolve, muscle fibers separate easily and the fish becomes flaky, a sign that it’s ready to eat.

Anne and Sue




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