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Jan 11, 2010 10:49 AM

A fish called Swai - new fish to me

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. 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

      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

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

    2. 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

        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

          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

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

          1. re: chef chicklet

            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

              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

                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. 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:

          1. "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

              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

                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

                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. 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

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