Being a child of the 60’s had it’s advantages as far as television was concerned. There were only three channels to choose from, two of the stations signed off with the National Anthem as soon as the eleven o’clock news finished, and on Sundays (when there wasn’t demolition derby races going on) we got fishing shows. Now for those of you that couldn’t possibly remember, they weren’t hi-tech / multi camera / scripted programs….It was 2 guys in a boat….. fishing…. and talking about lures…. and casting…. and talking about the fish they almost caught last week…. and fishing.It’s enough to make any program director roll around on the floor – there was a lot of dead air. Around 1968 they started taking us out to fish camps in unusual locations (Minnesota) and fishing for unusual (Pike) fish.
For a boy of 9 (and my dad), that was thrilling stuff – watching guys catch long, snakey, garbage fish, pitching a campsite on the edge of the lake, and cooking up what they caught.
On that particular Pikey program, one of the guys had a campfire recipe for cooking the most unloved of trash fish. My folks took note of the recipe and made it for dinner later that week.
Granted… it wasn’t pike, it was mackerel…. but it was so good! We made it a lot after that using a variety of fish. It was always easy – and always delicious
… and in my mind I could pretend we were camping on the banks of some desolate northern lake with our camp set up… eating fish cooked over the fire.
Sustainable or not, trash fish is just that – trash. You’ll never see me cook Farm-Raised Tilapia. I know, that’s harsh. Back when tilapia was called Saint Peter’s Fish – and wild caught, it was a decent aqua protein. It was sweet, fresh tasting and flavorful. However, once they found that tilapia could be placed in tanks with other better farmed fish to eat the… um… by-products, they took on a completely different profile. Now days, they taste like a stagnant pond. Gone are the light, sweet notes, gone is the delicate fattiness, and say hello to muddy, dry, fish. So, cheap or not – sustainable, or not – it can stay in the multi-filet packs in the grocery freezer.
Then there’s Mullet – which just isn’t even worth the effort to take it out of the market.
And, up until this week, I felt the same way about Swai.
Swai, or Iridescent Shark, is actually a member of the shark catfish family. If you’ve ever had an aquarium and bought a Bali Shark for your tank… you’ve had a Swai. Mean, moody and aggressive, they fit a food-stuff profile better than either of the above options. Swai feed on plankton, vegetation and other smaller fish so there is less of that bottom-of-the-tank funk in the meat. The flesh is tender, delicate, and extremely versatile. It can be substituted for sole or flounder in your favorite recipes, fried up like catfish…
and (as it turns out) makes a good sub- in for the campsite fish recipe.
Granted, this isn’t a terribly difficult, or elaborate recipe. It’s just good fish.
Swai in Foil
Serves 2 to 4
2 to 4 Swai Fillets
1 Yellow Onion
Salt and Pepper
2 Tablespoons Oil
2 Tablespoons Butter (or your favorite substitute)
Preheat the oven to 375
Thaw and dry each fillet.
Season both sides of each fillet with salt and pepper.
Tear off a sheet of foil about twice the length of the longest fillet.
Place a pat of butter on the foil and place the fillet directly on top.
Thinly slice the onion and lemon, and cut the tomato into 1/4″ slices.
Layer each fillet with sliced onions, tomato slices and top with lemon slices
. Drizzle oil over the top of each fillet.
Fold the foil over the prepared fish creating a pocket and tightly seal the edges
. Place on a baking sheet and pop in the oven.
Bake at 375 for 30 minutes
Note – It really doesn’t matter what fish you are using – the cooking time remains the same.
When the time is up – cut open the package, divide up the fish and serve with fresh steamed rice and some Braised Brussels Sprouts.