A Kitchen Inspired by Paiche
It’s hot and humid and the sweat drips from my face. As the sun beats down on me, I float along the depths in the dark, murky waters of the Amazon River. The rainforest trees surround me; it’s quiet and serene. I am dreaming of the elusive river monster the locals speak of. Suddenly, I feel the rush of a wave under my boat. Out of the water, I see a glimpse of this prehistoric fish with scales the size of silver dollars. The creature I had come looking for was just below me. I raise my spear and thrust it into the water. And as the spear pierces the water, I realize, it’s just a dream.
This is the picture I paint in my head every time I cook this fish. The discovery of something new is always fun, especially when it’s a delicious experience. Not too long ago, a friend of mine asked if I had heard of this amazing seafood delight. I was told of this prehistoric river monster from the Amazon. It definitely got my attention. This Amazonian delight is called Paiche (PIE-chay).
Paiche, native to South America is among the largest freshwater fish on the planet. Paiche diet includes small fish, crustaceans and even small animals that dare to come to the edge of the water. All of which give the fish its sweet tasting flesh. It’s low in fat, full of protein and Omega-3s. The locals of South America have been cooking this fish for decades and it has recently become available to us in the states.
There’s nothing better than seeing this massive, beautiful creative transform into something so inspiring and delicious. The hardest part of cooking this fish is deciding how I’m going to prepare it. Paiche is so versatile, it’s sure to please any palate. It’s a great introductory fish for those who think they don’t like seafood. Paiche has a mild, elegant flavor and soft yet dense in texture. I compare it to Halibut but sweeter.
You can prepare this remarkable fish in a number of ways. I was invited to a party recently and needed to supply a snack. I didn’t have a lot of time and thought, what can I bring that people wouldn’t expect yet enjoy? If you’re in need a quick and delicious go to party snack why not bring some gourmet fish sticks? The taste of these hot, crispy, and golden brown, bites of belly pleasing pleasure are sure to be a hit at whatever event you are attending. I like to elevate the dish by adding a seasoned panko breading and a variety of sauces for dipping. Spark some great memories and pair it the classic homemade tarter sauce. It brings me back to my childhood when my siblings and I would gather at the dinner table for fish sticks. I’ve since then elevated it for the adult palate and add a Cajun remoulade or a spicy sriracha mayonnaise for a nice kick and a different sensation.
If deep fried golden goodness isn’t your thing or if you are on the path to a healthier enlightenment there are plenty of options to explore outside of the fryer. When I am in need of something lighter for dinner but would still like the energy and sustenance that a protein provides I portion a piece of Paiche, a few of my favorite vegetables from the garden and start constructing my altar of healthiness to fulfill my dining desires.
If you’re like me and enjoy the intensity of something sweet, sour, salty and spicy then this is the dish for you. With this dish, I pan sear the fish and serve it with a sweet chili butter sauce. OK, so it’s mostly healthy! Indulge me a little with my use of a bit of butter. It’s certainly ok to omit the butter also. First, I’ll take my homemade spice blend, usually a mixture of sea salt, black pepper, garlic and onion, and generously season the fish. On the stove, I heat my cast iron skillet that has been passed down to me from my grandparents so it’s well seasoned. Add a small amount of olive oil. Once hot, place the fish, topside down in the pan and let the magic begin. The sound of the sizzle and the smell of the sweet fish and toasted garlic take my senses to another world. My mouth is instantly watering. I baste the fish, being careful not to move it and allow it to cook on one side to create a crisp texture to contrast the other, which is soft. I love eating meals with a multitude of textures. The sweet chili butter sauce is the perfect accompaniment. It’s obviously sweet by name, but it takes on a bit of sour from the vinegar and spice from the chili. And just when you think it can’t get any better the little bit of butter in the sauce creates a smooth, creamy finish. Pair it with fragrant jasmine rice and some roasted asparagus and you’ll immediately be transported to a French restaurant in the middle of Southeast Asia.
Not in the mood to cook indoors, then try grilling Paiche in the great outdoors. Grilling this fish inspires me to make one of my favorites, grilled Paiche tacos. Who needs a fork and knife when you can eat with your hands? On the grill, Paiche takes on a light smoky flavor, but keeping the sweet firm flesh as the star of the show. I like to add a mustard based red cabbage slaw with some bitey raw red onion, fresh spicy jalapenos, and a cilantro sour cream. It’s a simple dish with complex flavors and an abundance of textures. Serve this with a crisp light beer and call it a party!
No matter what way you cook Paiche, grilled, smoked, fried or roasted the possibilities are endless. Combine all of the best traits of every other fish you’ve had and you’ve got that and more in one divine bite of this unique freshwater delicacy. The next time you visit your seafood monger for your usual halibut or Chilean sea bass, take a second look, try something new and exotic and experience the King of the Amazon.
Have a favorite way to prepare fish or a certain fish you’d like recipe ideas on? Send us an email.
With “A Kitchen Inspired” we will share with you the current and up and coming ingredients, products and cooking methods that inspire our team members, chefs and the kitchen at Whole Foods Market Dublin.
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All facts and information about our food waste in the United States came from the Natural Resources Defense Council website.