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A fish called Swai - new fish to me

chef chicklet Jan 11, 2010 10:49 AM

I go to a market here in town with a fairly decent meat market and fish selection.

Trying to get our family to eat more fish is a constant battle. I love any and all, my dh doesn't it. He is pushing it to eat salmon, and it has to be the mildest salmons at that. I must bbq it, and then with a sauce.
Looking at what was available within an attainable price range, I saw tilapia, orange roughy and Swai. Swai, I've never heard of it. Curiosity got the best of me, and I flagged the butcher/fish monger down. I asked him what is this fish?

From what I gathert is a cousin to catfish, yet it is not fresh water. I really don't care for catfish, and I live near the Delta here in Northern CA, and catfish is abundant. And still after many years and different applications, I pass on it.
I was not impressed at that point and yet just had to ask, What's it taste like? doh.
Like catfish?
He answered, no, that it was mild, and not bad.
Not bad. okay, a few more probing questions and I decide, I'll buy a small fillet and figure this out for myself.

Okay, it's mildly firm in flesh. Great.
It has no fish smell at all. I mean at all. ooooooh, I want to smell of the ocean okay?
smell it again, smell the paper, no fish smell whatsoever.
I am slightly dissapointed.
I get out my box of Trader Joe's tempura batter, what occassion would be better. I would be able to taste the fish and I enjoy a light temura batter.

I whip up the batter, heat my trusty cast iron pan and get the oil hot.
Drop in the one fish filet and it splatters, and spits. The oil is perfect.
Season the fish with ground sea salt, and white pepper. Then a light brush by with black pepper. And I let it cook.
hmmm the first side that cooked looked great, light gold, I poke, it's crunchy crispy. no fish smell at all. I find this again somewhat disturbing.
I wait about 4 mins and I flip it, again I seaons the other side likewise.
another 2-3 mins and the fish is done.

On to a paper towel, both sides I blot the fish. NowI pay attention the quick butter/lemon/caper sauce I started. I swirl the butter, and lemon together and drop two mini spoonfulls of capers in the saute pan/ The butter browns slightly. I lift it off.
I've now properly plated the fish, and take the sauce and pour it onto the fish.
At the widedst body the fish filet is about 1 inch and a smidge, and probably the length of an average dinner plate. One filet is plenty. I paid $1. 39 for the one filet. ($3.99 per pound)
So after buying the filet with the soul purpose to see if my dh will like it, the verdict is this.
If you like bland, I mean really bland fish with virtually no fish taste at all, a flakey to firmish texture, you will probably like this fish. However, it's not for me, I find it too bland, pesonally I don't want to rely on the coating and the sauce to carry the fish.

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  1. n
    Norm Man RE: chef chicklet Jan 11, 2010 11:03 AM

    Swai was previously known as Basa and Vietnamese Catfish. I eat Swai often -- it is bland but I often buy it for $1.99 per pound.

    Some people avoid Swai becaise most of it is farmed and imported from Vietnam and are conerned about its growing conditions.

    2 Replies
    1. re: Norm Man
      RetiredChef RE: Norm Man Apr 25, 2011 01:10 PM

      Swai is NOT Basa

      Swai is a "species" of Shark catfish "Pangasius hypophthalmus" to be technical.

      It is also called:

      Sutchi catfish,
      Striped catfish,
      Siamese shark

      But it is NOT Basa or Panga

      Basa is also a "specius of the shark catfish family but it is distinct from Swai. Basa is many times called bocourti or river cobbler but it is a different species than Swai. Basa is "Pangasius bocourti" Swai is "Pangasius hypophthalmus".

      Not only do the two fishes look different there is a notable difference in flavor and texture between Basa and Swai with Swai being more moist and less sweet, but as other posters have noted very bland in flavor. Swai also has a coarser texture. In Vietnam Basa is favored, therefore most Swai are exported.


      1. re: RetiredChef
        behrjohn RE: RetiredChef Apr 21, 2012 11:36 AM

        Thanks for that! Now I have another question please, I was led to believe that Catra is also Swai. Does this sound correct?

    2. bushwickgirl RE: chef chicklet Jan 11, 2010 11:10 AM

      Sounds like a relative, either real or imagined, of tilapia. Ha ha.
      Anyway, it's a southeast Asia Pangasius catfish family member, related to basa and tra and is river-farmed. Consumer Reports suggests looking at the country of origin label to determine if your swai is from the Mekong or the Mississippi.
      Bland, sweet, flaky white fish. Cheap, too.

      6 Replies
      1. re: bushwickgirl
        sparkareno RE: bushwickgirl Jan 11, 2010 11:35 AM

        so where should it be from? I wonder if this is the same as a fish that Rader Joe's used to carry in the freezer called Bocurtti (or something like that) that they also called "white roughy". sounds like the description.

        1. re: sparkareno
          bushwickgirl RE: sparkareno Jan 11, 2010 12:47 PM

          Apparently, white roughy is a makey-up name for Basa and the FDA wants to ban the name's use, as it's misleading.
          Swai should come from Southeast Asia. If it's labeled as MS origin, it's another variety of catfish.
          Check ChefJune's montereybay link for information regarding Swai choice recommendations.

        2. re: bushwickgirl
          chef chicklet RE: bushwickgirl Jan 11, 2010 01:56 PM

          The little sign on the fish, read from Vietnam and it was farmed.

          1. re: chef chicklet
            bushwickgirl RE: chef chicklet Jan 11, 2010 01:59 PM

            Then you got the real deal. I think it's fairly aroma-free because it's a river fish, from warm water (Mekong Delta.) Maybe that's why it's also so mild tasting.

            1. re: bushwickgirl
              ospreycove RE: bushwickgirl Oct 12, 2010 02:01 PM

              when I was in RVN for the first time the Mekong River was little better that an open sewer, with the U.S. Forces dumping untold amounts of toxins, oils and unused pesticides (agent orange) I returned about 5 years ago and it "looked" better I assume it is better now.

              1. re: ospreycove
                Barbarella RE: ospreycove Apr 25, 2011 01:00 PM

                I refuse to buy or eat this fish. I read in a veteran's magagine that it is indeed farm raised in Vietman, but in the same fields where agent orance was dumped. Why would anyone want to eat this? Now my local A&P trys to disguise it under the name of "basa" same fish same poisons.

        3. ChefJune RE: chef chicklet Jan 11, 2010 12:04 PM

          I'd never heard of it, either, so I went to the Seafood REcommendations on Seafood Watch of the Monterey Bay Aquarium. Here's the link to what they had to say: http://www.montereybayaquarium.org/cr...

          1. ipsedixit RE: chef chicklet Jan 11, 2010 12:19 PM

            "If you like bland, I mean really bland fish with virtually no fish taste at all, a flakey to firmish texture, you will probably like this fish. However, it's not for me, I find it too bland, pesonally I don't want to rely on the coating and the sauce to carry the fish."


            One could sort of say the same thing about cod or halibut.

            I've known people who have used Swai in Fish N Chips.

            3 Replies
            1. re: ipsedixit
              Will Owen RE: ipsedixit Jan 11, 2010 01:46 PM

              That's exactly what I was thinking about doing - swai or basa fish and chips. Somewhere down the road, that is, as we're in Losing Weight mode for a while...

              I did my last batch of basa using a strategy I've employed with everything from salmon to chicken: seasoned the fish with salt and pepper, then put them in a bowl with a mixture of olive oil and hot chile oil and let the pieces sit there, turning them over every so often. Finished them by dropping into a hot skillet and turning once. That and a salad was a tasty diet dinner.

              1. re: Will Owen
                chef chicklet RE: Will Owen Jan 11, 2010 02:00 PM

                I'm trying to eat more fish. I called my dh and told him about it my little experiment, he said he just knew he was going to like it. LOL!

                That's a perfect application for this fish, I may have to try it again, it needs some oomph, and you may have found a nice way to include that.

              2. re: ipsedixit
                chef chicklet RE: ipsedixit Jan 11, 2010 01:54 PM

                I didn't hate it, I just like other fish more. For me it was much more bland than halibut. Yes the cod I've only been able to get, could categorize with the cod I've had lately.
                What was strange there was virtually no smell to it, and I've got a great sniffer.

              3. Cherylptw RE: chef chicklet Jan 11, 2010 12:34 PM

                It sounds like the sort of fish that's perfect to infuse flavors with...but it might just be perfect for your husband if he don't like the taste of fish..

                1 Reply
                1. re: Cherylptw
                  chef chicklet RE: Cherylptw Jan 11, 2010 01:55 PM

                  One of the fish guys at the market said he makes fish tacos with it. I can see it working in that way.

                2. r
                  ricepad RE: chef chicklet Jan 14, 2010 10:08 PM

                  I'm pretty sure that Raley's sells swai as "white ruffy". Or maybe it's Save Mart.

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: ricepad
                    chef chicklet RE: ricepad Jan 15, 2010 08:16 AM

                    nope they sell it as swai, that's where I got it.

                    1. re: chef chicklet
                      ricepad RE: chef chicklet Jan 15, 2010 09:25 PM

                      It was one or the other...I don't remember which. In fact, it may even be a trademarked name. Google yielded this: http://www.whiteruffy.com/

                      and this: http://www.nrn.com/breakingNews.aspx?...

                  2. w
                    Wiseone RE: chef chicklet Oct 11, 2010 09:06 AM

                    I picked it up for first time......I just Put salt/pepper/ garlic powder(always) and fresh squeezed lemon on it and baked it. for about 20 minutes. My experience was it was sweet tasting and I liked it. I never ruin food by deep frying it and breading it.. Looses it flavor.

                    1. p
                      perci RE: chef chicklet Oct 12, 2010 01:43 PM

                      Swai = Basa = Catfish.

                      The reason why it's not called catfish is because of protectionism. U.S. catfish farmers can't compete with Vietnamese catfish farmers on cost, so they force the USDA to mandate that only U.S. catfish can be called catfish.

                      1. luckyfatima RE: chef chicklet Oct 12, 2010 03:46 PM

                        In Dubai I saw pangasius marketed as cream dory and job fish. Dubai Filipinos called it Panga (have no idea if it is also popular in the Philippines, and if it is also panga there, too) In my Texan HEB market it is pangasius, I have also seen "basa" as a label. Now swai, white roughy, ca tra, Mekong catfish. All of these names for the same fish. I know different items have regional names, but it seems that this fish has an extreme amount of names.

                        I know it is farmed catfish, but it is my fave fish for being mild, almost flavorless, and not fishy.

                        1. s
                          Squeekerz RE: chef chicklet Feb 2, 2011 01:25 PM

                          We love Swai...we dipped it in a lil milk and breaded it with bread crumbs salt pepper lil oregano baked it for 10 mins and topped it with fresh grated Asiago broiled it for a min to melt the cheese-it was wonderful. We have done a lot of things with it!

                          1. s
                            Snorkelvik RE: chef chicklet Feb 2, 2011 01:41 PM

                            Just want to say I agree wholeheartedly with this statement:

                            "Some people avoid Swai becaise most of it is farmed and imported from Vietnam and are conerned about its growing conditions."

                            For more info, see NYT article on asian fish farms:

                            4 Replies
                            1. re: Snorkelvik
                              eatswjoy RE: Snorkelvik Apr 9, 2011 03:10 PM

                              Thank you Snorkelvik for this link.

                              After reading about the dirty river in this thread and in another CH, I was concerned about this fish. We have been eating it and I still have some in the freezer. The fish taste good to us, I would like to continue buying it from time to time.

                              It looks like the FDA is involved, making sure that banned chemicals are not being used. I am hoping that they are testing for chemicals in the fish that we buy in the US. Does anyone know if they do this?

                              1. re: eatswjoy
                                chef chicklet RE: eatswjoy Apr 26, 2011 11:44 AM

                                I smelled a chlorox like smell, as if it was rinsed in something. Very unpleasant, not like a seafood that's turning where it's ammonia ( I know that smell believe me) but like it had been rinsed or sitting in a liquid with chlorox. I figure why bother if I have to take so much pain trying to research this stuff. I've not bought it again.

                                1. re: chef chicklet
                                  eatswjoy RE: chef chicklet Apr 26, 2011 04:06 PM

                                  Thank you chef chicklet. The swai that I had bought was frozen and from Wal Mart. When defrosted, it actually was very nice, no weird smells. But, I know that we can't always smell chemicals that could be in food. :(

                              2. re: Snorkelvik
                                bermudagourmetgoddess RE: Snorkelvik Apr 26, 2011 01:14 PM

                                I advoid it because my husband is a fisherman (as was my family) and if it is not fresh i do not eat!

                              3. m
                                musiclady RE: chef chicklet Apr 9, 2011 01:06 PM

                                I'd never heard of it until I saw it in the Kroger ad. At $2.99 I just had to try it! The butcher told me he had to look it up and found it's just another name for Vietnamese catfish. I rolled the 2 fillets in a mix of corn meal and flour, sprinkled my "secret" ingredients on and baked it on our grill for about 10 minutes. Delicious! Will definitely buy again!

                                1. s
                                  sueatmo RE: chef chicklet Apr 9, 2011 05:45 PM

                                  I've eaten Swai several times. Sometimes I have found it better than at other times. Eating it reminds me of eating scrambled eggs. And that is how I got the idea for using fish as a protein at breakfast.

                                  If I could buy frozen American catfish, the way I can swai, I'd buy that instead. I don't know if I'll be buying swai again after reading the NYT article referenced below.

                                  1 Reply
                                  1. re: sueatmo
                                    Will Owen RE: sueatmo Apr 27, 2011 12:20 PM

                                    "And that is how I got the idea for using fish as a protein at breakfast." My favorite breakfast choice at Cracker Barrel restaurants is Cousin Hershel's Favorite, which offers catfish as one of the protein choices. Fried catfish and eggs is a stunningly good combination; swai would be very good too.

                                  2. c
                                    cuckoochews RE: chef chicklet Apr 20, 2011 09:06 PM

                                    If you would like a different perspective on what you are eating, try googling irridescent shark or pangasius catfish... Same as Swai, but sold in the freshwater aquarium hobby as pets.

                                    1. RetiredChef RE: chef chicklet Apr 25, 2011 10:31 AM

                                      Just a few corrections

                                      Swai is NOT Basa

                                      Swai is a "species" of Shark catfish " Pangasius hypophthalmus" to be technical.

                                      It is also called:
                                      Sutchi catfish
                                      Striped catfish
                                      Siamese shark

                                      But it is NOT Basa or Panga

                                      Basa is a catfish also, many times called bocourti or river cobbler but it is a different species than Swai. Basa is " Pangasius bocourti"

                                      There is a notable difference in flavor and texture between Basa and Swai with Swai being more moist and less sweet, but as other posters have noted very bland in flavor. Swai also has a coarser texture. In Vietnam Basa is favored, therefore most Swai are exported.


                                      5 Replies
                                      1. re: RetiredChef
                                        Barbarella RE: RetiredChef Apr 25, 2011 01:06 PM

                                        then the fish monger who stocks my A&P should change the name from basa!!!

                                        1. re: RetiredChef
                                          Zeldog RE: RetiredChef Apr 25, 2011 06:19 PM

                                          I've never done a side by side comparison, so I'll take RetiredChef at his word as to the relative qualities of Basa and Swai, but the bottom line is neither tastes remotely like American catfish. Both are quite bland and the best thing I can say about them is they might be appreciated by someone who does not like fish. But both seem very dry to me, by which I mean having very little oil (by taste, at least), so if getting more omega-3 into your body is your objective, you might go with fish oil capsules instead.

                                          1. re: Zeldog
                                            RetiredChef RE: Zeldog Apr 26, 2011 10:01 AM

                                            "Vietnam has tastier fish than US

                                            Vietnamese basa catfish may be tastier than the channel cats farmed in the United States, according to studies comparing the two.
                                            Not only are they just as good for you as fish that are legally labelled "catfish," but basa were preferred in a taste test 3-to-1, say researchers at Mississippi State University."


                                            Taste is subjective - so your opinion is completely correct, however the studies done have actually found that people, on average, prefer Basa. This reminds me of a taste test we performed at a culinary show where people were given a sample of two different crab cakes and asked to tell us which one was better. The only difference between the two was one was made with real blue crab and the other with Imitation Krab. The imitation Krab was preferred 2-to-1.


                                            1. re: Zeldog
                                              chef chicklet RE: Zeldog Apr 26, 2011 11:46 AM

                                              ding ding ding! Remotely like catfish, exactly on.

                                              1. re: Zeldog
                                                EricMM RE: Zeldog Apr 30, 2011 10:49 AM

                                                I don't think you're likely to get much Omega 3's from any farmed catfish, US or Vietnamese. A good portion of their feed comes from grain, which means Omega 6.

                                            2. v
                                              vlpcw RE: chef chicklet Apr 30, 2011 10:29 AM

                                              It tastes like chicken, lol. I agree, chef chicklet, it has NO smell and really no taste. I did not like the texture either--found it a bit disgusting! Oh, well...

                                              1. chefj RE: chef chicklet Apr 30, 2011 10:39 AM

                                                Wow just what we need. A completely tasteless fish, grown in conditions that are hard to monitor, half way around the world, burns tons of fuel to get it here.
                                                Sounds delicious and environmentally sound not too mention supporting our /your local economies!

                                                1. p
                                                  pddenty RE: chef chicklet Jul 30, 2011 05:13 PM

                                                  I'm trying Swai for the first time. If I had known it was that close to a catfish I would not have bought it. I'm going to grill the 1 piece that I bought along with my trusty salmon. We'll see....

                                                  1. k
                                                    kitchenprof RE: chef chicklet Feb 18, 2012 04:52 AM

                                                    Swai is delicious. It bakes really well. I marinate it in various citrus/spice/oil scenarios and bake it in a really hot oven, almost 500 degrees. Fantastic in about 10-15 minutes.

                                                    1 Reply
                                                    1. re: kitchenprof
                                                      Joebob RE: kitchenprof Feb 18, 2012 02:35 PM

                                                      Steams well too.

                                                    2. f
                                                      foerymark RE: chef chicklet May 31, 2012 01:54 PM

                                                      Irony! This dish was hailed as my best fish dish ever. So if it is a bland fish my cooking must have, logically, been outstanding: Extra Virgin Olive Oil, Butter (equal amounts), Lemon Juice and Rind, Garlic, Onion (chopped fine), Salt, Pepper, and a splash of cabernet sauvignon simmered to reduce, dip pieces and place them in alluminum tins, pour remaining mixture on Swai, wedge a tomato and post a portion on each parcel, Uncovered cook on closed charcoal grill maybe about twenty minutes you know til it looses that translucent look and just starts to flake, M. m. m. m. m!

                                                      1. o
                                                        ospreycove RE: chef chicklet May 31, 2012 03:02 PM

                                                        Swai and Basa, Vietnamese Catfish, are listed on "The Twelve Fish You Should Never Eat".


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