wealth of knowledge. It was by complete accident that I walked into the Great Catfish Debate. I had intended to make the Slow-Roasted Halibut with Shaved Asparagus and Fennel on page 84 of this month's Bon Appetit.
Super H Mart, my local Asian market, did not have halibut but I did remember that another recipe I planned to make later in the week called for bass. I saw a nice looking white fish labeled "basa". Rather naively, I assumed this was Spanish for bass. Many of the employees speak Spanish so that was a plausible explanation. A quick Google search proved I was wrong. Basa is a type of catfish, native to the Mekong River in Vietnam. Realising I had purchased a completely different type of fish, I began to look up recipes to see how best to cook this fish. Almost immediately, I began to read warnings about the safety of basa. Several websites spoke of the filth in the Mekong River where these fish grow and the likelihood of this fish to carry toxic chemicals as a result. See http://randomsay.wordpress.com/ I got a little freaked out. Was I going to poison my family by cooking this fish? I decided to do a bit more research. What I found was quite interesting. Several American catfish producing states had banned basa (or its cheaper cousin, tra) because of health concerns but nowhere could I find actual health infractions. I could find no evidence from FDA testing of high chemical content, no news stories of food borne illness. In fact, I found several recipes from high-end chefs that raved about the mild flavor and smooth texture of this fish. In fact, in a blind taste test preformed by the University of Mississippi, people preferred the taste of basa. Maybe this all a bit of brouhaha for nothing. I found the following musings rather entertaining so I'll link them here. http://mises.org/daily/1890 The question is...Did we eat the fish? We did. Will I eat it every week? No.
I ended up using the basa to replace the halibut in the Slow-Roasted Halibut with Shaved Asparagus and Fennel Salad. This substitution was a bit of a stretch but we are leaving for Texas tomorrow and I didn't want to head out to the second grocery store of the day to find halibut. Basa is as advertised. It is a very mild tasting white fish that had firm smooth flakes. Probably the best thing was that my kitchen did not smell the least bit fishy after cooking. The breading for the fish was baked, eliminating the oily results of fried fish breading. The asparagus and fennel salad was very lemony, almost masking the flavors of the vegetables.
In a slightly ironic twist, I also made the Leek and Ginger Matzo Balls in Lemongrass Consomme. Why is this ironic, you ask. Because basa is a catfish, making it very NON-kosher. Whoops! Thankfully, I hadn't invited anyone to dinner who followed kosher regulations but it was a bit strange to serve a classic Passover dish, matzo ball soup, with a non-kosher main dish. This soup was more traditional than you would think. The lemongrass and ginger flavors were almost undetectable. I liked the soup but would not say it was much better than a Manischewitz soup in a box.
Leek and Ginger Matzo Balls in Lemongrass Consomme-B
Slow-Roasted Halibut with Shaved Asparagus and Fennel Salad-B+