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Swai, basa are types of catfish

We were in Oklahoma this past weekend for Jim’s aunt’s 95th birthday. Whenever in that region, I always order catfish.

To me, fried catfish, coated with cornmeal is a typical Southern food. The U.S. farmed catfish are the best choice in the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch. This variety in the family of Ictaluridae, which could be blue catfish, or Ictalurus furcatus, and channel catfish, Ictalurus punctatus, is farmed in large ponds and are highly regulated by government agancies to ensure that the fish has no bacteria or disease.

Swai, basa, or pangasius is rated as a good alternative by the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch and many of you might be wondering what kind of fish it is. At the market, it is usually vacuum-packed white flesh filets with no bones. It is a mild, neutral tasting, flakey fish that works well with many recipes. It is a kind of catfish Pangasius bocourti, in the family Pangasiidae and is native to the Mekong River Delta of Vietnam and Chao Phraya basin in Thailand.

In 1994, after a trade embargo with Vietnam was lifted,this cheaper than our domestic catfish made a mark in our markets. But in 2002, the U.S. accused Vietnam of flooding the U.S. market with catfish, or Pangasius bocourti and Panasius hypopthalmus, and charged them with unfair competition. The U.S. Food and Drug declared that only the species from the family Ictaluridae can be sold as true catfish. So since that time, the “catfish” coming out of Southeast Asia has been sold as basa, swai, pangasius, or bocourti. Some importers were also fined for selling swai under the names of catfish, grouper, or sole to avoid tariffs on imported fish.

In the U.K. it is called river cobbler; in many parts of Europe, basa is sold as pangusius or pangas.

It is interesting that the U.K. took to the river cobbler as it was a good alternative to cod or haddock and two retailers started to sell fish and chips using river cobbler. But in July 2009 and again in April 2010, the U.K. successfully prosecuted two retailers for fraudulently using Southeast Asian catfish instead of cod or haddock.

Basa is raised in pens in the Mekong River and there are no regulatory agencies to monitor the waters. Some claim that the Mekong River is polluted with industrial waste and the waters contain arsenic, DDT, PCBs, and chlordanes or CHLs. I would think the Monterey Bay Aquariums Seafood Watch has checked this out before they put it on their list as a good alternative as I am seeing more and more swai and basa served in restaurants.

Catfish have no scales but instead have a mucus-covered skin, used for cutaneous respiration, in other words, it breaths through the skin.

Chinese catfish, or clarias fuscus, was brought to Hawaii over one hundred years ago from Southern China by immigrants. Many backyard aquaculture farmers raise them, along with tilapia. If you are lucky enough to have some in your backyard, here is a recipe for the Chinese catfish.

Sichuan Catfish

Serves 4

Wash: 4 medium sized Chinese catfish, gutted with heads on

Marinate for one hour in:1/2 cup Shaoxing wine (available at Kilauea Market) Clean: 2 heads garlic, whole cloves (yes, two heads, not cloves) Heat a wok with: 5 tablespoons canola oil Place cloves and fry until just wrinkly, but not browned (remember, it gets bitter if it gets burned). Remove with a wire skimmer and set aside. Turn heat to high. Pat fish dry with paper towels, when wok with oil is hot, carefully place fish in hot wok. Fry till each side is crispy. Set fish on side when done frying. Lower heat, add: 4 tablespoons Chinese red chile bean paste Stir for 30 seconds, then add: 3 tablespoons minced fresh ginger Stir for 30 seconds, then add: 1-(14 ounce) chicken broth 1 tablespoon soy sauce 1 tablespoon sugar Turn heat to low, place fired catfish back into wok, allow to simmer in stock for 6 minutes. Add fried garlic cloves. Cook another 6 minutes. Remove fish and garlic to platter. In a small bowl, mix together slurry: 1 tablespoon cornstarch in 3 tablespoons water Add to wok, heat till thickened, about one minute boil. Turn heat off, place on fish: 3 green onions, chopped 1 tablespoons rice vinegar Pour thickened sauce over fish.

Small Bites: On June 25, 1987, President Ronald Reagan declared that day National Catfish Day because of being such a great food source.

A two ounce piece of catfish contains 20 percent of the daily need for protein, 23 percent vitamin B-12, and 14 percent phosphorus, with only 88 calories. However it has more omega 6 fatty acids than omega 3 fatty acids so it is not a good source of the heart healthy omega 3 fatty acids.

Foodie Bites:

Da ‘Ohana Corner Café is open, usually from Wednesday to Friday at the Hawaii Community College Culinary Program. Last week they had Eggs Benedict, Green Onion Quiche and French Onion Soup for their specials. Call 934-2591 to see what their specials are this week.


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