It’s one of my readers’ all-time favorite fish dishes, fried daing na bangus, according to a poll I ran a couple of years ago. Not only is it delicious and addictive, it is relatively abundant in Manila and is reasonably priced vis-a-vis other fish. I realized I had never made a marinated daing na bangus from scratch, and I wanted to see if there was a way to make it better at home, rather than just buying marinated bangus or doing a last minute marinade before frying. The first step was finding some good bangus. At the Nasubgu market the other day, I noticed an elderly lady making short shrift of bangus bones as she expertly removed hundreds of bones from small bangus in seconds…
…it was a wonderful sight. Skill and expertise borne out of thousands of fish she had de-boned over the years. Some things I never aspire to, and deboning a bangus properly is one of those things. :) After chatting for a few minutes, the lady picked out six small-medium sized bangus for me, weighing in at roughly 333 grams each (3 to a kilo) and she de-boned them while I waited and chatted. At 71, and with perfect eyesight, she worked and talked at the same time. At PHP130 a kilo (I didn’t even bother to bargain) these bangus came out to roughly 43.33 each and would serve one of me just fine, but really serve two normal diners.
Having made the effort to find the freshest fish and having it deboned right in front of my eyes, my next task was to assemble the finest ingredients in the house for two versions of boneless Daing na Bangus a la Marketman. The first batch included vinegar, salt, black pepper and garlic. I used organic coconut vinegar, artisanal local sea salt without iodine, freshly ground tellicherry black peppercorns and garlic that was peeled and smashed in a mortar and pestle. For each fish roughly 250-275 grams (after de-gutting and de-boning), I sprinkled roughly 2 teaspoons of salt, 2 tablespoons of vinegar, generous amounts of pepper, and several cloves of garlic.
For a second batch, I added some Thai fish sauce (patis) and a little bit of Kikkoman soy sauce and a couple of siling labuyo chopped up. I “sun-dried” the bangus for a couple of hours (it wasn’t that hot or sunny), a process that is similar to making lamayo, allows a slight breakdown, and dare I say decomposition or rotting of the meat that aids flavor? No, it isn’t spoiled, but it has a slightly added flavor dimension, I hope. If you are queasy about this step, or don’t have an hour to stand watching the spread-eagled fish under the sun, swatting away flies and glaring at hungry neighborhood cats, then skip this step. Luckily, there didn’t seem to be ANY flies at the beach last weekend, and there were no cats, either.
After their “tanning” session to develop that little whiff of skankiness (I jest here, the salt and vinegar do not really allow putrification of the scary kind), I put the bangus fillets into plastic zip lock bags and let them marinate in the fridge overnight (actually, a total of 20 hours before we fried the fish or put them into the freezer for longer storage). The next morning, I added a copious amount of vegetable oil to a fish pan, set the fire on high until the oil was very hot, and carefully slipped a bangus fillet into the oil. I didn’t bother to flip the fish, as I find that risks meat “break-up” and I like my bangus to have a little bit of moisture left, particularly if it is freshly made. It took only 3-4 minutes to cook the fish until lightly golden brown.
The taste? Superb. Of course I am biased because I made it, but the version with patis and kikkoman and chilis were definitely more interesting that than the classic plainer version. You don’t get much heat from the chilies, so add enough to suit your tastebuds. Also, know that you must salt GENEROUSLY or the final product will appear bland. If properly seasoned, the bangus is good even without vinegar or patis, but of course I had a dipping sauce on the side. What I can definitely say is that you should try and make this from scratch. Most of the work is done at the market. The marinating is easy peasy, and the satisfaction from frying up your OWN daing na bangus combined with the fresh and personally tailored seasoning is worth the effort.