31 Jan2012

Fish Fillet a la pobre

by Marketman

There is a Spanish side side dish of potatoes with some oil and garlic that is referred to as a lo pobre. It is, perhaps, the source of the “style” of cooking something simply, with a minimal of ingredients (oil and garlic). The term, literally meaning “poor” suggests it is something prepared by a person with limited means. In the Philippines, it seems the restaurant Alba’s is credited with taking the term and applying it to steak — and I don’t know if the steak was actually served with a side dish of potatoes. But from that first application to meat, the term a la pobre spawned a whole slew of dishes across the Philippines in the decades since the name was coined. Unknown to most folks used to ordering something in a Pinoy restaurant a la pobre (and yes, its usage, or mis-usage is uniquely Pinoy)… the origins of the phrase refer to the potato side dish, not the steak with garlic… and if you go back to the roots, I gather the addition of onions, knorr seasoning, or even parsley was probably not original. :)

At any rate, I was testing some recipes that would meet the lenten requirement of “no meat”, and decided to try a fish fillet a la pobre style. It was quick, simple and easy to do, and tasted great with a side salad of greens… Of course, you would enjoy this with some rice as well, as we Pinoys are, again probably uniquely inclined to have starch on starch… like pancit or spaghetti with rice, or potatoes with rice. :) To make, use a fresh fish fillet (or defrost a frozen one) of your choice. Pat dry with paper towels and season with salt and pepper (you may dredge in flour if desired, I didn’t do this). Prepare a tablespoon or two of finely chopped garlic. Parboil 5-6 baby potatoes until cooked, then slice them into fourths (you can do this in advance). Chop up some parsley. Into a fish pan, or other non-stick pan, heat up some olive oil and a bit of butter, then sear the skin side of the fillet for a couple of minutes until just lightly golden brown…

I heated up one of those cast iron sizzling plates and added a knob of butter, then flipped the fish in the pan onto the sizzling plate (the uncooked side now face down against the sizzling plate). Next, add a bit more butter to the pan, add the garlic and saute for a minute or so, add the potatoes, season with salt and pepper and sprinkle with parsley. Add the potatoes, garlic and butter/oil mixture on top of the fish. Serve immediately. If you don’t have a sizzling plate, simply flip the fish over in your pan, remove to a warm plate, and continue with the recipe. This turned out quite nicely for the minimum effort required. If you like garlic, add more. Serve with bread to sop up the sauce, if you like. I thought this was closer in spirit to the term a lo pobre since it was actually served with the potatoes in that style. :)



  1. james1 says:

    Hi MM. From the looks of it, this is a lovely dish and easy to prepare, to boot. I’ll try to do it with cream dory.

    Let me just point out the word “spurned” in your first paragraph; it is not the proper term in your sentence as spurn means “to reject or refuse in a way.” You may have meant “spawned.”

    Jan 31, 2012 | 1:39 pm


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  3. Marketman says:

    james, yes, absolutely, spawned… will edit. Thanks.

    Jan 31, 2012 | 1:40 pm

  4. Mom-Friday says:

    Quick, simple and very delicious. That’s how I like it! ;))))
    I usually squeeze over some lemon or calamansi on the fillet, then pan fry with lots of garlic, olive oil and butter, and chopped basil instead of parsley. Next time I’ll try with potatoes!

    Jan 31, 2012 | 5:11 pm

  5. IƱigo Galatas says:

    Originally the name of the dish is “patatas a lo pobre”. Only potatoes.
    The dish came from the poor version of the “bacalao and patatas”, which was cod, potatoes, oil, parsley. Without money, no bacalao, hence the “patatas a lo pobre” version.

    Jan 31, 2012 | 6:01 pm

  6. Marketman says:

    Inigo, thanks for that…

    Jan 31, 2012 | 6:06 pm

  7. D says:

    Hi MM! Thanks for the info on the etymology of ala pobre! FYI, the steak ala pobre in Alba’s doesnt seem to have potatoes on the side.

    Nice and easy to make recipe. Will definitely try this soon!

    Jan 31, 2012 | 8:00 pm

  8. Marketman says:

    D, thanks for that, now it really is beginning to sound oxymoronic, steak and poor… hmmm… :) But kudos to Albas for a treatment that has gone countrywide… in the same manner “sisig” now means finely chopped and sizzled… as in bangus sisig, tofu sisig, etc.

    Jan 31, 2012 | 8:24 pm

  9. BD says:

    Hmm. No acidity. I wonder if a fresh water fish like tilapia would equally turn nice as well. Very interesting indeed.

    Feb 1, 2012 | 2:38 am

  10. Biy says:

    Without scrambled eggs it is truly alapobre..pwerti ka pobre..

    Feb 1, 2012 | 4:17 am

  11. linda says:

    With the exuberant prices of fish here in OZ you have to be earning an uber-income to even step in the door of the fish market to view the fish on display and if you’ve won the lottery they will even let you purchase some. :)

    Feb 1, 2012 | 6:58 am

  12. Betchay says:

    So when you transfer the fish from the pan to the sizzling plate, it was half cooked and you let it finish cooking in the sizzling plate,did I get it right? nice tip to prevent overcooking. :) tnx!

    Feb 1, 2012 | 7:28 am

  13. sur says:

    Will be looking for this (or a version) on my upcoming trek to Madrid / Barcelona/ Lisbon (and side trips to Fez-Casabanca-Marrakesh) come march

    Feb 1, 2012 | 12:35 pm

  14. Footloose says:

    Speaking of a lo pobre, traveling on a shoestring through Spain toward the end of the Franco regime, we invariably ended up in lodgings that offered just beans and bread for supper and bread pudding for dessert. Both were tasty and functional while we were young and carefree but it once and for all cemented in my mind bread pudding with poverty.

    Feb 2, 2012 | 3:03 am

  15. Hechoayer says:

    The proliferation of Dory fillet can enable more people to make this dish.

    Feb 8, 2012 | 8:09 am


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