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The beginner’s guide to cooking fish the Pinoy way

By SOL VANZI

One of the positive effects of the pandemic quarantine is the sudden interest in cooking by individuals who had never before ventured into the field. Social media postings have shifted dramatically from photos of restaurant meals to adventures in home cooking, with friends and strangers trading tips on kitchen equipment, recipes, ingredient sources, and food safety.

Amid all this is a noticeable surge in queries about old Filipino dishes and cooking techniques. Here are a few lessons on traditional Pinoy ways with fish.

SCALES AND GUTS 

Tagalog grandmothers left untouched the scales of fish destined for inihaw (broiled) and paksiw (stewed in vinegar). Scales were scraped off the fish for sinigang, prito (fried), pinangat, and other dishes.

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Sinigang na bangus

It is, however, universal practice to leave scales on for daing na bangus, but remove scales for daing na tilapia.

In the old days, when rivers were unpolluted, fish guts were left intact and only the gills and bile were removed. This is still the practice in some areas in Pangasinan, especially for malaga and bangus.

KEEP FISH HEADS ON

Filipinos, like most Asians, consider the head as the best part of the fish and reserve it for the guest of honor. Most fish are kept whole if they fit in the cooking vessel and serving plate. Fish heads are also retained when making kippered (daing) fish.

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Fish are laid out to dry along a beach in San Fernando City City, La Union. The dried fish is locally known as daing. (Erwin Beleo)

To keep the small-to-medium fish whole, guts are pulled out with the gills in one fell swoop. Bigger fish need to be gutted through a cut in the belly near the gills.

Fish heads are much sought after, especially for sinigangpaksiw, and pinesa.

Filipinos, like most Asians, consider the head as the best part of the fish and reserve it for the guest of honor.

SMALL IS BEAUTIFUL

Small fish are not rejected, can be quite expensive, and are reserved for specific specialty dishes. Among the most in-demand are dulongtawilissalinyasi, and dilis.

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Sardinella tawilis

Dulong is the smallest and most sosyal. It is prepared with olive oil, garlic, herbs, and spices to approximate the Spanish specialty angulas, and served on Melba toast as an appetizer. Many housewives prefer the easy dulong omelet, which is simply seasoned dulong held together by beaten egg and pan-fried into thin pancakes. Others prefer crispy dulong okoy (fritters), excellent as pulutan or merienda.

Salinyasi (saltwater sardine) and tawilis (Taal  Lake sardine) look identical and are prepared the same ways: smoked, grilled, fried crisp, and pinangat. Simmered a long time in oil and spices, they can be served like expensive imported tinned sardines. When in season and plentiful, they are sun-dried without salting.

Dilis (anchovy) is sold locally either fresh or dried. When fresh, it is a favorite for kinilaw (ceviche) or breaded and deep-fried. In Spanish restaurants, marinated dilis are called boquerones en vinagre. They are a traditional and very popular tapa (appetizer).

Dried dilis is often served fried for breakfast and as pulutan. Beheaded, tuyong dilis is a traditional ingredient for gata or coconut milk-based vegetable dishes.


Source: Manila Bulletin (https://lifestyle.mb.com.ph/2020/05/28/the-beginners-guide-to-cooking-fish-the-pinoy-way/)

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