Wednesday, November 7, 2012

The Hawthornes Prepare Swai For Lunch.

 When the Hawthornes were in Savannah,
 I had a fish taco and
the poisson du jour was swai,
pronounced swah - ee,
a fish I was not familiar with.
 We found some at Food Lion
and we're preparing it today.
2 1/2 pounds for $9.95
or $3.98 a pound.

It is a white-flesh fish
with a mild, sweet taste
and light, flaky texture.
It can be baked, grilled, broiled,
or battered and fried.

Our lunch today is of Vietnamese provinance.

Swai, pangasius, and basa are used interchangeably
when referring to two species 
of farmed river catfish from Asia, 
native to the Mekong River Delta of Vietnam
and Chao Phraya basin in Thailand.
It is not the same as catfish 
from the Mississippi Delta,
so check the small print.

In case you didn't know it,
there is on ongoing "Catfish War,"
which started in 2002,
pitting United States catfish farmers
against Asian producers.
The American market share
has been steadily shrinking
 under the weight of Asian imports.
Mekong Delta catfish farmers
had one over a fifth of the US catfish market.
This did not sit well with American catfish farmers,
particularly those in Mississippi,
where U.S. grown catfish were increasingly
being replaced on store shelves and menus 
by their Vietnamese cousins.
So catfish farmers did what has become increasingly
an American tradition:
they shed their integrity and whined and complained to congress
and lobbied politicians to pass laws to protect them
by hindering or outlawing their competition.
Mississippi Senator Trent Lott was at the forefront
of this movement,
introducing a measure in the Senate
declaring that henceforth,
only the United States strain of "channel catfish"
which they raised
 could be called "catfish."
And Congress supported this unethical move.
Traditionally, "catfish" had referred to any of thousands
of varieties of bottom-dwelling fish with whiskers.
After Lott's measure passed
(Somehow this passed through an obscure
amendment attached to a totally unrelated appropriations bill.
 Gotta love how politicians can do that.),
any catfish originating in Vietnam would be
sold as "basa" or "tra" or "swai."

It doesn't stop here.
Next, the United States started an anti-dumping case
against Vietnamese catfish.
Anti-dumping is intended to discourage
importation and sale of foreign-made goods
at prices substantially below 
domestic prices for the same items.
Anti-dumping suits are anti-competitive tools
that heavily subsidized U.S. industries use
to slap taxes on imports from countries
they claim are too heavily subsidized.
The Commerce Department could not find any evidence
that Vietnam was significantly subsidized
in its catfish industry.
Vietnam was merely producing cheaper catfish.
So the United States responded by slapping draconian tariffs
on Vietnamese catfish,
in a sense, 
rebuking this country from emerging 
from the constraints of Marxism
and blocking the capitalist progress in Vietnam,
and this, coming from the United States -
a shining beacon of capitalism
that sacrificed 60,000 of its own
ostensibly in a war to rid Vietnam of Communism.

Ahhh, the irony.
But wait.
There's more!

There was also a media campaign
in which the Catfish Farmers Of American
distorted the truth in an attempt to scare
U.S. consumers into purchasing only U. S. raised catfish.
"Did you know only 2 percent of imported seafood is inspected?
The Mekong River in Vietnam, full of contaminants,
sends us 100 million pounds of catfish each year,
and 98 percent gets served for dinner uninspected."
And there is this rather inflammatory video
against foreign catfish.

U.S. politicians then purported
(with no scientific support)
that Vietnamese catfish weren't safe
for American consumption
because ...
they had been tainted with AGENT ORANGE,
the same defoliant the United States sprayed 
over Vietnam during the war.

I never knew about all this drama
before I started researching swai.

I'm really going to enjoy this meal.
I'm using my new tortilla pans
Mr. Hawthorne found at a WalMart
on our travels last month.
$10 for a pack of four.
I brush melted butter on both sides of the tortillas,
and press them into the pans.
Next I add a little seasoning -
cumin, oregano, cayenne, 
granulated garlic, onion powder, cilantro.
Whatever you like.
Bake at 400 until lightly browned.
Seven minutes or so.

Mr. Hawthorne fried up some excellent skinny fries.

Mr. Hawthorne lightly battered some shrimp,
fried 'em up.

I served the shrimp in the taco shell
atop a salad with avocado and tomato.
I used my homemade
Boar and Castle Sauce for dipping.

Asian slaw for the side.

And here's the swai.
Very light fish.
And sweet.

Rosie's happy.
She's found a new fish!
I'm looking forward to preparing this fish
in other ways now.


Lea said...

Man. Can't escape politics any where today ; )

Rosie Hawthorne said...

I want you to appreciate how food gets to our tables, Lea.

And now, let the 2016 campaigns begin!

Lea said...

Oh man. PLEASE no.

Anonymous said...

why would you buy a fish from vietnam when you have so much fresh fish availalbe to you where you live?

Rosie Hawthorne said...

Anony, good question.
Mea culpa.

Normally, I wouldn't buy frozen fish from anywhere.

Mr. Hawthorne saw it and since we'd had it in Savannah, we were intrigued.
It's something that's not normally available.

So we bought it.

99.99999% of the time, we buy local.

What can I say?
Sometimes I want some strange.

Forgive me?