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Bighead catfish is an air-breathing catfish native to Southeast Asia. Nowadays, hybrids of Asian and African catfish species are widely farmed, a practice that negatively impacts the native catfish populations in central Thailand because so many farmed catfish varieties are released into nature.
The heirloom catfish, which is smaller and has slightly less fatty meat than farmed fish, are called bplaa dook uy (ปลาดุกอุย) or bplaa dook naa (ปลาดุกนา). Catfish was always an integral part of the Siamese diet, as an inexpensive, accessible, nutritious and delicious food source that could easily be hunted in and around the rice paddies.
Catfish are not too fussy about the waters in which they swim. They can even flourish in stagnant waters and flooded rice fields. Thus, they have a slimy, scaleless skin and oily meat with a muddy aftertaste. They are most suitable for grilling, deep-frying or in curries.
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- 3 catfish (ปลาดุก) total weight of about 1 Kg
- 1/2 cup dark soy sauce (ซีอิ้วดํา)
- 1/3 cup light soy sauce (ซีอิ๊วขาว)
- 1 tablespoon sea salt (เกลือทะเล)
- 1 teaspoon ground white pepper (พริกไทยป่น)
- 1/2 cup Thai garlic (กระเทียมไทย) crushed unpeeled.
- Clean the fish and remove the internal organs. For grilling, it is best to pull out the internal organs by making a horizontal cut under the head, rather than opening the fish’s abdomen with a long incision.
- Scrape the slime off the catfish skin with a knife. Rub the catfish with coarse salt, then wash it thoroughly.
- Using a sharp knife, score the fish by making vertical cuts along its body, 2.5” (6 cm) apart.
- Insert a bamboo skewer through the fish’s mouth going through the entire fish but not coming out at the end, leaving enough of the skewer to hold the fish.
- Rub and marinate the fish for 20 minutes with thick dark soy sauce, light soy sauce, salt, ground white pepper, and bruised garlic.
- Light up the charcoal, and wait until the flames subside; wait until the charcoal is properly heated up before starting the grilling process.
- Place the catfish over the grill; if it flames, then the grill is probably too hot. Place some ash over the charcoals to reduce the heat.
- The fish should be slowly grilled until its skin is crispy and shiny.