Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Spicy Swai with Rice Sticks

I have to admit that I need to learn how to cook Asian food.  Sure, it would be a great thing to learn how to cook Chinese, Japanese or Thai food.  However, I also want to learn how to cook some other cuisines, like Vietnamese, Malaysian or Korean.  This recipe is somewhat of an accident.  I really planned on making Bucatini with a Soft Shell Crab Sauce.  There is a seafood store that usually carries soft shells, even when no one else does.  However, when I went there, they did not have any soft shells.  So, I left dejected and wondering what I would make.  When I stopped at my local grocery store, I perused the small seafood counter and saw something that I had not seen before ... swai.

The swai, also known as the basa fish, is a species of river catfish from the delta.  The particular delta is not the Mississippi delta, but the Mekong delta.  For the most part, swai or basa are raised on commercial farms in southeast Asia, most specifically Vietnam and Thailand.  According to Seafood Watch, the swai have a "strong" potential to be a sustainable fish.  There are some concerns about the method by which farmers raise the swai, particularly the use of open cages.  There is some research that shows that the use of open cages may have an adverse effect on the environment, plus an increased possibility of disease amongst the fish and escape of the caged fish into the rivers or waters where the cages are maintained.  Still, in terms of sustainability, Seafood Watch rates the Swai as "good," although not as good as U.S. farmed catfish.

In making this dish, I wanted to try something different and push myself a little.  Given swai is a Vietnamese fish, I wanted to use my wok to make a stir fry.  As I strolled the aisles of the produce section, I picked up a couple red peppers, some baby eggplant, and some cilantro.  As I headed to the checkout aisle, I passed the Asian food section and debated whether I should serve this with rice or noodles.  I came across a package of "Rice Sticks," which are basically rice noodles.  Having never used rice noodles before, let alone in a stir fry, I thought I would give them a try.  I returned home and, with some ingredients out of the pantry, I created this dish off the top of my head.  And, while this dish will not win any awards, it actually turned out to be quite tasty.

A Chef Bolek Original
Serves 3-4

1 pound of swai fillets, cut into bite-sized pieces
2 red peppers, diced
3 baby eggplant, diced
1 clove of garlic, finely diced
2 tablespoons of fresh cilantro, chopped
4 tablespoons of canola oil
1 teaspoon of sambal oelek
1 teaspoon of fish sauce
1 teaspoon of dark soy sauce
Salt, to taste
Pepper, to taste
Lemon, juiced

1.  Prepare the rice sticks.  Generally, you place the rice sticks in warm water for five to eight minutes until they have softened.  Drain the rice sticks and set aside until you are ready to fry them.

2.  Prepare the swai.  Salt and pepper the swai liberally.  Sprinkle the lemon juice over the swai and set aside.

3.  Cook the vegetables and spices.   Heat the canola oil in the wok on high.  Add the peppers and saute for about three minutes.  Add the garlic, saute for a minute more.  Add the eggplant and continue to saute for about five minutes.  While sauteeing the eggplant, add the cilantro, sambal oelek, fish sauce and dark soy sauce.

4.  Cook the fish. Add the swai and stir to make sure that the liquid covers the swai.  Cook for about five to seven minutes.  Add the noodles and continue to stir until everything is incorporated well.

While this may not have been my strongest outing, it was definitely a tasty dish.  I plan on tweeking this recipe a little to improve upon it.  I'll keep you apprised of any changes in the recipe.  Until then ...


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