All About Swai
My dad was crazy about fish and seafood. So much so, that when he came to visit me in Hong Kong, we pretty much had fish/seafood three meals a day because of the preponderance of fresh product there. When I was growing up, we routinely had fish at least once a wek, but it was some frozen preparation, tho my dad might cook fresh fish for himself on occasion.
There are so many more types of fish available in the market today than there were in my salad days. OK, I never had “salad days.” But I’ve come to discover that fish isn’t always precisely what it’s labeled in the grocery counter.
How did this happen? Back in the 1960s, when cotton and other cash crops began losing their footing in the deep south, farmers were looking for an alternate source of income and aquafarming began to take root, particularly for catfish, which was gaining popularity on US dinner tables. Raising catfish domestically provided for an easy to raise, cheap cash crop.
Not wanting to miss out on this growing market, other countries, and particularly Vietnam also started raising catfish and exporting it to the U.S.
American catfish farmers didn’t cotton to this (see what I did there?) because the Vietnamese were undercutting American wholesalers prices in an attempt to get a foothold in the market. Seeing this and feeling the wrath of his constituents, Uncle Sam raised a bony finger, pointed at the Vietnamese and said “knock it off. Go open nail salons or something.”
Eventually they got the message and imports of Vietnamese catfish dwindled. Or did they? Turns out those crafty folks merely changed the name of the Asian cats. To Swai. And/or Basa. The Asian cats are milder than the US farm raised, and lend themselves to easily being manipulated with different flavorings and cooking methods.
The Swai comes from the Mekong River, which starts in the Tibetan plains and meanders 2,703 miles through China, Myanmar, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam. It’s one of the world’s most diverse and productive fisheries, producing 4,500,000 tons of fish/seafood per year!
So now you know. Anyway, I was thinking about this over the weekend as I was screwing around with different types of breading for frying fish. Got out the mini-Cuisineart and pulverized pretzels, cheetos, cheese popcorn, saltines, matzo and the like.
In the end, I used my old standby, 2/3 cornmeal, 1/3 flour, and am doses of Tony Chachere’s Cajun seasoning and paprika. For me, that combination works just fine.
Swai and Basa come in multi-pound packages of individually wrapped frozen boneless filets. Generally about $3 a pound. What other healthy protein can you buy at that price?
Oh, before I go, one more thing. There’s no such animal as “Chilean Sea Bass.” It’s a marketing term designed to sound nice on menus. Cooked up by a fish wholesaler in 1977. The actual fish itself? It’s a Patagonian Toothfish. Doesn’t that sound yummy?