Q: I have bought fresh cod fillets twice recently and both times I found at least one live, brown, 1 1/2-inch worm, about the thickness of a piece of heavy thread. The fish smelled fresh and appeared fit to eat except for the unwelcome guest. What is this worm? How fit is he or she to eat?
A The worms you saw -- quite common in cod (and sometimes called cod-worms) -- are of the phocanema genus. Of greater concern would be anisakis roundworms, to date observed only in the flesh of herring and salmon, although found in the viscera of many fish.
Both worms, when found coiled in the fillet, are in a state of dormancy, awaiting ingestion of the fish by some other animal, usually a mammal such as a sea lion. Once ingested, they attach themselves to the walls of the ingestor's stomach or intestine. Anisakis worms can remain within the human gut. They cannot complete their life cycle by laying eggs, however, and are therefore eventually eliminated. The phocanema roundworms fare even less well and have rarely caused more than a slight gastric disturbance.
In Japan, where anisakiasis -- anisakis roundworm infection -- is common and where consumption of raw fish is the rage, a variety of symptoms might occur. They usually start several days after consumption of the infected fish. The severity of the illness varies. One might be so lucky as to vomit up the worms and terminate the infection. Or, if the worms attach themselves successfully in the gut, severe abdominal cramping ensues. And, if they remain alive and attached, the condition turns chronic and the symptoms persist. At this point, ulcer-like lesions develop, which are painful to the victim but are the demise of the worms as they cannot endure the body's defenses associated with the lesions. And so, after weeks or months of pain but little real damage to the victim, the infection terminates.
This food-borne disease is still rare in the United States. One diagnosed case of acute (not chronic) anisakiasis was reported in 1984.
Roundworms are quickly killed during cooking provided the fish is heated to 140 degrees. Freezing at zero degrees for three days is also effective. But refrigeration, cook smoking, brining or marinating the fish fillets have little effect.
This might cause some anxiety about the consumption of smoked salmon and pickled herring, both of which would logically contain anisakis roundworms. It is now standard industry procedure (partly as a result of a severe outbreak of the infection in the Netherlands in 1960) to freeze such fish as they are caught before returning to port. This, of course, kills the roundworms.
The now-popular raw fish products served in Japanese restaurants -- sashimi and some forms of sushi -- can be sources of infection. Herring, a very oily fish, is not used. But salmon is very popular and is often served fresh.
Q: How does one reduce the crumbliness and rough texture of an all-whole-wheat bread recipe? I like its nutty flavor and I like the idea that I'm eating something nutritious, but I'm tired of the sawdust texture.
A: No matter how you mix it, knead it or slice it, an all-whole-wheat bread recipe will always have the crumbliness and roughness associated with wheat bran. The only way to change it is to substitute bread flour for half or more than half of the whole wheat flour.
The substitution is simple: for every cup of whole-wheat flour, substitute one cup of bread flour and add an additional teaspoon and a half of water or milk to the formula.