For the 14th Edition of Lasang Pinoy [A LA ESPANYOLA!] hosted by PurpleGirl, we hark back once again to our rich cultural past in exploring the varied influences of Pinoy [or Filipino] cuisine.
Philippine cuisine, like its home, has numerous indigenous and foreign influences. Throughout the centuries, the islands have adopted the cuisine of the early Malay settlers, Arab and Chinese traders, and Spanish and American colonizers, along with other Oriental and Occidental flavours and twangs, and incorporating them to become what we refer to as “sariling atin” [our very own]. The strongest culinary influence though is from Spain which ruled the Philippines for almost four centuries.
Filipino food historians claim that eighty percent [80%] of Philippine dishes are of Spanish origin. Because the Spaniards formed the elite, dishes adapted by upper-class Filipinos were also Spanish-inspired. Thus, many of the party and fiesta dishes and those served for special occasions bear names like caldereta, callos, embutido, estufado, morcon, paella, relleno, etc.
Even though my grandmother was of Spanish-descent, I do not remember our table laden with fare that is distinctly Castilian all the time. In one of my earlier posts [in fact my entry to Lasang Pinoy 2], I briefly mentioned that: â€œWhile nanayâ€™s cooking would be more or less authentically Pinoy, my late lola [having had Spanish roots], was more inclined to and expert in dishes like lengua, asado, pochero, almondigas, estufado, etc. . . .â€
So, what then make these dishes Filipino? For this, let me quote the late Doreen Fernandez: “The history and society that introduced and adapted them; the people who turned them to their tastes and accepted them into their homes and restaurants, and especially the harmonizing culture that combined them into contemporary Filipino fare.”
At home, Spanish-influenced dishes normally would make their appearance on the table during holidays like Christmas, New Year, and other special occasions like birthdays and anniversaries, or on days when nanay and lola would really be inspired to cook up a fiesta fare.
For this round, my entry is actually a backlog from last year â€“ rellenong bangus [stuffed milkfish].
Milkfish [Chanos chanos], or bangus as it is locally called here in the Philippines is our national fish. Bangus is one of the many staple fish diets by Filipinos although milkfish is widespread in Southeast Asia. Countries like Indonesia and Taiwan have milkfish also in their diet. To describe this fish, the scales are bright silver and a slender body. The bangus thrive either in fresh water lakes, brackish water, mangrove swamps, estuaries and salt water.
When cooked, the flesh is white as milk – that is why it is called milkfish. Because milkfish is notorious for being much more bony compared to other food fish in the country, deboned milkfish or “boneless bangus” has become popular and common in stores and markets. Widespread throughout the islands but the more tasty ones comes from Dagupan, in the northern part of Luzon, Philippines. There are many milkfish recipes available and stuffed milkfish or rellenong bangus is one of the best.
Rellenong bangus is one of those dishes my lola loved and one that I never really attempted to cook, for one, I donâ€™t know how buy or spot a good fish! And two, I also donâ€™t know how [and still refuse to learn] to clean a fish â€“ let alone debone it! So when I tried this one last year, it turned into a disaster.
This time, with the assistance of the â€˜orfanageâ€™ executive chef Rose and yaya SisterVi, I managed to come up with a decent rellenong bangus. And unlike Brunei, where I first experimented on this, fish mongers in Manilaâ€™s wet markets provide extra services like cleaning and de-boning.
After selecting the right-sized bangus, it is then scaled, gutted, and the intestines removed. A long and slender spatula is carefully inserted between the skin and meat, through the cavity opening, and slowly pushed, pulled and moved around to separate skin and meat. The spine is then snapped at the nape and near the tail. The meat is pushed until it comes out whole through the cavity opening between the head and the body.
Other fish mongers will pound and slit the bangus open with a very sharp knife, remove the backbone and scrape the meat off the skin with a spoon. This procedure though involves the extra work of sewing up after stuffing the fish. The visible strings, too, do not look attractive at all after frying.
At the â€˜orfanageâ€™ kitchen we marinated the head and skin in a mixture of calamansi [lime] juice, light soy sauce and black pepper powder. Instead of boiling [which is the usual], we steamed the meat until its colour changed. The meat is cooled, filleted, de-boned further and flaked.
For the stuffing, sautÃ© minced garlic, chopped onions and chopped tomatoes until cooked. Add in flaked fish, finely chopped carrots and red capsicum, finely chopped ham, and raisins. Season with salt and pepper, and sautÃ© for another minute or so. Transfer mixture into a bowl to cool. When cooled, pour in beaten eggs to the mixture, add some flour and mix well.
Finally, using a spoon, carefully stuff the marinated fish head and skin – through the neck, with the fish, vegetable and ham mixture. Fry the stuffed bangus until golden brown.
Now, frying the stuffed fish can sometimes be tricky especially when you have quite a big fish. Tendency is for the fish to break while turning it over â€“ which is exactly what happened the last time I did it. Before frying, it would help if a piece or two of bamboo skewers are inserted through the mouth and the tail end of the fish to serve as temporary spine. Be sure to remove the skewers before slicing to serve!
Lasang Pinoy, which could mean â€˜tastes of something Filipinoâ€™ or short for â€˜the Filipino tasteâ€™ is a monthly food blogging event to promote Filipino food. It is a product of e-mail brainstorming sessions of several Filipino food bloggers who thought it was time for a Filipino event in the tradition of Is My Blog Burning. The blogger organisers of Lasang Pinoy and participants strive to make the events reflective of Filipino culture.