Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Faux-stuffed Basa Fillets with Olives, Tomatoes, Lemons and Oranges

I don't know how familiar most people are with the fish "basa," but the fish called "basa" is a regular at our neighbourhood supermarkets. Even Safeway. Yes, that's Safeway.

"Basa" is a kind of catfish, Pangasius bocourti, native to Vietnam and the Mekong Delta.

I've read somewhere that the fast-running waters of the Mekong river gives the fish a firm but flaky, clean- and delicate-tasting, flesh. That is, basa, unlike other catfish and freshwater fish, does not have mud-tasting ("lasang lupa") flesh. But not having been to Vietnam, I can't really comment either way.

Prior to 2001, "basa" was sold as "catfish," but apparently catfish farmers in the US, worried about sales and wanting to protect catfish fisheries around the Mississippi Delta, protested against the labelling of "basa" as "catfish" and succeeded in blocking the use of the name "catfish" to apply to "basa."

But here's another twist to the tale of the basa. The "basa" being sold in North America might not even be true basa (Pangasius bocourti) but a related fish called tra, Pangasius hypophthalmus. A poorer cousin of sorts, with coarser and muddier-tasting flesh. Tra is sold sometimes sold as "China sole," "river cobbler," or even more confusingly, "basa catfish."

So this post might be more fittingly called Faux-stuffed Faux-Basa Fillets, because I think we have these river cobblers, not true basa.

In any case, these faux-basa are often sold as frozen, with 2 fillets to a pack. They are relatively inexpensive here, ranging from 2.99 to 4.99 a pound retail.

Faux-basa is what I would call serviceable fish, functioning well as generic whitefish. They're good breaded and fried: fish fingers, for example. They can take stronger flavours: they would particularly be good in curries, I expect. Vogue serves them with a black pepper sauce that works well.

Please find this link to an old but fascinating article about the trials and tribulations of basa and faux-basa.

Our mother just pan-fries these fillets and they're -- well -- serviceable, but sometimes -- and it is only sometimes -- they do have that slightly, ever-so-slight, mud-taste that need to be cooked out or masked in some way for me. (Hence the curry, black pepper sauce, and the frying suggested applications, all of which would effectively get rid of the ever-so-slight off flavour.)

Our mother also bought too much of the faux-basa fillets, so I was at a loss how to cook them. I didn't want to do any frying or a curry. I wanted to do something quick too, given that it was close to dinnertime.

No frying, no stovetop-cooking, so my only choice was to have the fish go into the oven, where I can just leave them there until done. I took a half cookie sheet and laid out the fish fillets. The half cookie sheet can only fit three and I had six fillets in total. I didn't want to have two cookie sheets going, because then I will be doubling my washing.

So I hit on the idea of just putting them on top of each other and doing a "stuffing" in between them.

I put some tomatoes and olives as the "spread" between the fish. I also put some slices of lemon and orange in between the two fillets, then topped the "stuffed fish" with more tomatoes, olives, and citrus slices. Salt and pepper, of course, and a little drizzle of olive oil.

I roasted these "stuffed fish" in the oven for about 45 minutes at 400 degrees. I can't remember the exact time but roast until the fish is done.

They came out pretty well and looks so very Mediterranean.

Not bad for a fish from the Mekong Delta, eh?

P.S. I loved this dish! Those olives were perfect for this. And oh, I don't mind the taste of these basa (or whatever-it-is-fish) at all. Among everybody in the family, only JS has an aversion to it, I think.

We're submitting this to the I LOVE BAKING event crated by Ben of What's Cooking.

Basa information on Wikipedia

Stuffed recipes:
Mediterranean Stuffed Leg of Lamb
Stuffed Peppers (Lamb and Rice)
Stuffed Squid (braised in tomato sauce)
Faux=stuffed Basa Fillets with Olives, Tomatoes, Lemons and Oranges
Stuffed Giant Squid, Two Ways
Stuffed Savoy Cabbage with Pork


  1. I use basa too..a good "go to" fish when wanting something cheap and tasty. The Mediterranean topping is a nice complement here.

  2. If basa is the same river cobbler fish being sold here, imported from Vietnam, then, it is not so bad a fish at all. They do not taste muddy. Though, they turn fishy if refrozen. So, you have to cook them immediately after purchase. They are soft and flaky, melt-in-the-mouth when cooked.

  3. These look great! I haven't seen basa (or any of the various attempts at basa) around here, but I suspect I'm just not looking in the right places. I love the "Fake" stuffing!

  4. How clever are you stacking them like that for cooking

  5. Very nice presentation, you guys! A pretty attractive ending for a humble mud-loving fish. And you get high marks for dish-avoidance creativity!!

  6. This is such a good healthy way to eat fish. Love the olives!!

  7. I never heard of basa. Thanks for the information. I'll probably see it everywhere now that I am aware of it, you know how that goes.

    Your fish dish looks beautiful!

  8. I saw your first picture and bookmarked it, I didn't even have to read the recipe!

  9. Yes yes..basa fillet....I baked this catfish the other day!

  10. I'm impressed by your dish this morning. I love it.

  11. I totally love the idea of this dish. You know how i love faux food. I have this bookmarked because my mother in law would love it.

  12. Peter M said...
    We've been buying a lot of frozen mackerel lately. Very, very good go-to fish. Oooh, mackerel!

    Yeah, I think it is only JS who has a problem with it.

    Fearless Kitchen:
    I think this would work with any fish! =)

    This was another one of times where I heard JS puttering around the kitchen and didn't know what she was up to. =)

    Haha... I think you just have to take it one fish at a time, and soon you'll be loving most of them. ;P

    Dish-avoidance is always on our minds. ;D

    Esi \ Lori Lynn \ Helene:

    Haha, wow! Thanks.

    Ooh, wonder how you cooked yours.

    maybelle's mom:
    Haha... for me, it's more about the "quotation mark" usage in dish names. ;)

  13. I heard basa fish contains traces of carcinogen called Malachite Green. Has anyone else heard about this? Can't be too careful...

  14. We recently got a forwarded email along those lines. I'm not *too* worried, but that's because we don't have this often. Evrything in moderation.


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