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Healthy Seafood
Bring a piece of the Italian tradition of serving fish on Christmas Eve with fresh herb and panko-crusted tilapia fillets. Oven-frying results in a nice crunchy coating without the oil of pan-frying. (AP Photo/Larry Crowe)

The Italian Christmas Eve tradition of serving a meal consisting of at least seven different seafood dishes can be a boon for healthy eating.

That is, unless you work fried fish into the mix.

But, if you want to keep the crunch without crashing your diet, you can make crispy seafood part of a merry Christmas or any dinner throughout the year.

Oven-frying fish or shellfish can give you results that are close to deep-fried, but with dramatic cuts in fat and calories.

The first step is to coat fish fillets, shrimp or scallops with a layer of buttermilk, mustard or even a low-fat creamy salad dressing. Then coat the pieces with fresh seasoned breadcrumbs, crushed flake cereals or cornmeal.

Panko, a Japanese-style breadcrumb that can be found in the Asian section of most grocers, has a lighter, crispier texture than most Western-style breadcrumbs, making it well-suited for oven frying.

You also can use spices such as ground chilies, herbs or even a bit of grated Parmesan cheese to boost the flavor even more.

Next, all sides of the coated seafood are misted with cooking spray. This helps the coating crisp without adding much fat.

And, to get golden, crispy results on all sides, the fish is cooked on a wire rack. This allows hot air to circulate under and around each piece.

FRESH HERB AND PANKO-CRUSTED TILAPIA FILLETS

Start to finish: 30 minutes (10 minutes active)

Olive oil cooking spray

1/4 cup buttermilk

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper

1-1/4 pounds tilapia fillets

2 cups panko (Japanese-style) breadcrumbs

2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley

1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh basil

1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh oregano

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1 teaspoon garlic powder

1 lemon, cut into wedges

Place a rack in top third of oven. Heat the oven to 425 F.

Set a wire rack on a baking sheet and coat it with cooking spray.

In a bowl, whisk together the buttermilk, salt and pepper. Add fish fillets and turn to coat evenly.

In a shallow bowl or pie plate, combine the panko, parsley, basil, oregano and garlic powder.

One at a time, dredge each piece of fish through the breadcrumb mixture, coating both sides evenly.

Arrange the fish on the prepared rack. Coat evenly with cooking spray on all sides.

Bake for 12 to 15 minutes, or until the panko coating is golden brown and crisp and the fish is opaque at the center. Serve with lemon wedges.

Makes 4 servings.

Nutrition facts per serving: 361 calories; 50 calories from fat; 6 g. fat (2 g. saturated; 0 g. trans fats); 71 mg. cholesterol; 41 g. carbohydrate; 36 g. protein; 3 g. fiber; 726 mg. sodium.

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