Rarely have I tried to replicate something I have never ever cooked before and end up with results this good, the first time around. So the inspiration was the legendary lines and forced rationing of salted egg fish skins by a purveyor in the lobby of SM Megamall. The things people did to get their cravings satisfied. So when one of our managers from Cebu had someone line up before the stall even opened (the advantages of having earlier access for employees) I knew I had to check this product out. I must state categorically that I am not really a huge fan of salted egg dishes, and missed most of the current trend to have it on everything under the sun like potato chips, so I was not the fawning fan of anything salted egg… but when we finally opened a PHP600 large bag of the legendary Singaporean fish skins, I must admit I was intrigued enough to give it a very objective taste, meaning, without wanting not to like it. It was pretty good, and I can see how some folks would really like it, but it wasn’t going to take over my personal preference for say, Doritos or Salt and Vinegar potato chips, but that’s just me. The story could have ended there. But everyone else seemed to think I was a strange bird for not jumping on the salted egg bandwagon.
But as usual on this blog, there is a back story to all this. A few months ago, shortly after we opened Zubuchon in Manila, an old friend and avid blog reader from a decade back, Marla, handed me a bag with a weighty present inside, she was kind of sheepishly amused how I would react to a commercial, foil-wrapped bag of Knorr salted egg powder… I noticed it was MSG-free (yay!) and I promised to put it to good use at some point. One thing led to another and it ended up in an office cabinet for a few months, untouched.
I had tried cooking salted egg based dishes before (see here, inspired by another long-time reader, Millet of Davao), using real salted eggs, but now I know exactly why this trend was expanding at a rapid pace, because the key ingredient was now so conveniently and readily available. Unilever and Knorr are brilliant in many ways, my only wish is that they make sinigang mix and other local mixes with an option that is MSG-free, like they do with chicken cubes elsewhere in Asia… So thanks Marla, this experiment is thanks in part to your key “secret” ingredient… :)
But the other part of the story is that local, artisanal dried fish skins are something we have in stock at Zubuchon. We serve a dish that pairs fried fish skins with kinilaw, and it has since been copied by many other restaurants in Cebu and elsewhere. So besides the salted egg powder, we had the fish skins. And as luck would have it, I have a small curry leaf tree growing out in the yard, so all I needed was some margarine and chilies. I couldn’t get myself to use margarine, just couldn’t, and opted for canned Queensland butter instead. Though perhaps I should have stuck to the margarine called for in most recipes on the internet.
Into a pot I put some butter, chilies, fresh curry leaves and brought this to a simmer and added several tablespoons of the salted egg powder.
I eyeballed it at this point, and if anything, I could have added even more salted egg powder as my sauce was kinda thin. I added two teaspoons of sugar for a touch of sweetness as well.
Meanwhile, fry up the fish skins and take care NOT to over-fry them, which is a just a split second longer than you think. It is critical they are slightly under- rather than over-done as they get another round in the oven to dry the sauce out. Notice the skins in the back, they were overcooked and bordering on evil. :( Salt the freshly fried fish skins as soon as they emerge from the fat. If you use lard, you will be on my short-list of FWAFOL’s (Friends Who Are Fond of Lard). Hahaha.
Take your previously made sauce and sprinkle liberally over the fried fish skins and sprinkle some salted egg powder over everything. I did this on both sides of the fish crackers, which was a bit exagge, but more is better in this case, I think.
Stick this all into a low heat oven say 230-250F for 15 or so minutes until the sauce dries out a bit. Dry on paper towels to mop up excess oil and enjoy. They were delicious! But delicious! And relatively oh so easy to make, albeit with a few hard to find ingredients. I am thinking of offering a variant which would include fried fish skins with the butter and salted egg sauce on the side to dip into… Experiment was a total success! :)