GUEST POST: Milk Fish, Sardine-style!

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by Eugene Caccam
Remember that jingle of the comedienne-singer Nanette Inventor (aka Dona Buding) for a brand of sardines sometime in the 70s? Well, I remembered and was humming it when I beheld pails and pails of baby bangus (milkfish).
There are many delectable ways of cooking bangus, and a recipe can have several regional variations. Which is why it is the country’s national fish. But the 4-5” sizes are perfect for cooking it a la sardine-style.
Clean the fish, keep the scales on and cut off the head if you wish (you may choose not to.) Then put all ingredients (half kilo fish, olive oil, peppercorn, bay leaf, a piece of pickled cucumber or gherkin – sliced crosswise thinly, a piece of carrot also sliced thinly, olives if you wish, and bird’s eye chili). Add equal parts of water and oil to cover the fish.
Cover the pot and cook it over slow fire for 3-4 hours. I used a crackpot, setting it on high for the first hour and then shifting to low.

Not needing to mind it, I was able to do other chores, enjoying the aroma from the kitchen at the same time. For a smoked flavor, you may choose to cook it over charcoal. Slow-cooking allows you to tenderize the spine and thorns to sublime edibleness without overcooking. More importantly, it allows the flavors from the fish, condiments and spices to blend in a way that emphasizes the brackish-water sweetness and delicate softness of the fish. (It might interest you to know that I have long discarded my pressure cooker. I think it’s an invention that takes away the flavor from food. Cook this dish slowly, with much tenderness and love.)
I completed the Filipino touch to this brunch of pan de sal (bun) sandwich with a bed of mustasa (mustard) leaves which are just as sharp as arugula, kesong puti (native cheese from carabao’s milk), itlog na pula (salted egg), and chopped siling labuyo (bird’s eye chillis). You can, of course, customize it according to your regional preferences. You can have goat cheese and century eggs, for example.
You may also wish to dip the bread in the bangus sauce, as the Italians do.
You know you have prepared this dish successfully if your guests, even with eyes closed, exclaim, “Uhm, bangus and no other!”
Bon appétit!

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