just me

I Try Swai – With Pestai! (oh, okay. pesto)

In Fish, Pasta on February 9, 2010 at 4:24 pm

What the heck is Swai? Delicious, that's what!

I love fish and seafood of all kinds. And my love is further validated by the nutritional value – yes, this is the only instance I can think of where a food I love is actually as good for me as I’d like it to be! But of course nothing is ever perfect. What ruins this love affair, you may ask? Twenty dollars a pound, that’s what! Yeah – swordfish, Mahi, even flounder, for heaven’s sake. Flounder’s a bottom feeder! It used to be cheap! Even my childhood favorite Red Snapper is so pricey, I just can’t justify it.

Going off topic for a second – speaking of Red Snapper, I was in Savannah, Georgia once when I was, oh, twelve years old or so. I had the best Red Snapper EVER at this place called the Boar’s Head Grill and Tavern. I mean, this was like twenty years ago, and the rapturous taste of that fish still lingers in my mind. Unfortunately, the Red Snapper doesn’t seem to be on the menu any more. Maybe it was a special or something, I don’t know. But if you ever go to Savannah, have a bite at the Boar’s Head. I swear they’re not paying me to say this – they have no idea who I am! I just remember it that well.

Okay, back to tonight’s dinner! So, fish is way too expensive. I’ve been trying to stick to the cheaper ones, but tilapia and shrimp soon get repetitive, and besides – they were out of tilapia last time I went shopping. I was all in a kerfuffle, because I had planned TWO fish dishes this week, and I needed fish, darnit! And the swordfish, frankly, didn’t look that great for $20. So, attracted by the $4.69 price tag, I noticed Swai. Hmm, I thought, what the heck is swai? I wanted to ask the fish guy, but he wasn’t my usual one, and apparently didn’t speak English. Kind of a point-and-smile situation. So I bought some.

I was a little nervous about this new fish! It looked too deliciously white and firm to be $4.69. So I did some research – apparently, Swai is basically Malaysian catfish. It seems that sometimes when you buy catfish, you’re actually buying Swai – check the country of origin before you buy. If it’s from the U.S., it’s catfish. If it’s from Asia, it’s Swai. Or something like that. I was a little disappointed, because I really only like catfish fried – I find it a little too mushy and fishy otherwise – and we’re trying to stay away from fried foods, here. If I wanted to consume a thousand calories, I’d have a burger, not fish.

I need not have feared, however! The Swai was fantastic! Maybe I’ve only ever had really crappy catfish, but I thought the Swai was WAY better. It was deliciously light, mild, and flaky, but firm enough to hold together. In taste, very similar to tilapia; in texture, very similar to a more delicate Mahi. Great! Now I know what to buy. I’m so delighted with myself! I love new discoveries!

As if discovering that I love a cheap new fish wasn’t enough, wait until you hear how easy it was to prepare. I don’t even need to put this in recipe form – it would be more confusing that way. Listen:

Marinate 2 Swai fillets in 3 tablespoons pesto for a couple of hours. Sautee over medium heat until opaque, and serve over linguine (which, of course, you’ve tossed with more pesto). That’s it!

I cheated, and used store-bought pesto. If you insist on being a purist and making your own, here’s how:

A true purist would use a mortar and pestle to crush the basil, but feel free to use a food processor. My stepdad does, and he makes the best pesto ever.

Anyway, you need a huge bunch of basil. How huge depends upon how much pesto you want to make – about six tablespoons of finished pesto covers a pound of linguine, but it’s nice to keep extra on hand to use on sandwiches and stuff. But even to make that much, you need quite a sizeable bundle of basil. Not these little supermarket plastic clamshell packages. I would say about five good handfuls of leaves.

A good pesto is just a matter of proportions. Your ingredients are basil, garlic, pine nuts, and olive oil. Maybe some salt and pepper if you wish. I never measure my pesto ingredients, I just keep throwing stuff in the blender until it feels and tastes right. The best technique is to grind up the basil first, then add the garlic (about 3-4 cloves) and the pine nuts and grind, then drizzle in the oil while still grinding until it reaches a nice consistency. Sometimes you get basil that’s not so flavorful, so you add more garlic. Or maybe you can’t find pine nuts, so you add walnuts. Or maybe you don’t like garlic, so you leave it out. I don’t know. There are so many ways to make pesto that the only wrong way is the way you don’t like.

Okay, my dears! Until tomorrow, have fun, and try Swai!

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  1. I only had swai for the first time a few weeks ago. This fish is tasty. I don’t know that I make a very good pesto, and I didn’t marinate it in the pesto (I just steamed the fish, and then later added a bit of spinach). When I put the pesto on the fish on the spinach on the penne, I thought the flavors went together extremely well. I made it last minute which is why I didn’t marinate it. I’ll try that next time.

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