It happens less often now, but I have a history of eating something wonderful (and often deceptively simple) and wondering if I can replicate it at home to ensure availability. The simplest local Filipino dishes are almost always the most difficult to get just right, but it’s precisely that enigma that sets up the challenge… On a recent whirlwind trip to Batanes to shoot an episode of “Show Me the Market” on Metro Channel, I tasted maytahes or “day-old” flying fish three times in 45 hours and was utterly smitten. Flying fish was filleted and dried for a day then deep-fried, that’s all I had figured out. No one showed me how to do it, no one explained how to salt and dry it, but I nevertheless thought I should be cheeky enough to give it a go. So if you’re Ivatan and cringing at my attempt at maytahes, any advice you may have to improve this will be greatly appreciated.
At the Nasugbu market a few weeks after our Batanes trip, I spied some fresh looking flying fish, smaller* than the ones I had seen in Batanes, but I definitely wanted to try and make the dibang we had enjoyed in Batanes.
My knife skills filleting a bony fish are horrific, so before buying two kilos of flying fish, I looked up a photo of the dibang on my phone and tried to show the fishwife what I was trying to achieve and see if she was willing to fillet the fish for me. She agreed to try…
Her knife wasn’t the sharpest blade around and the filleting** was a bit ragged, but certainly better than anything I could do. She went ahead and filleted all two kilos worth and we packed it on ice for the half hour trip back home.
Back at home, I cleaned up all of the guts and any dark or bloody bits from the fish, assuming that this part would be more likely to spoil in a semi-dried state.
Next, I be-headed the fish…
…with a cleaver in a clean straight cut.***
Next, I decided to just simply salt the filleted flying fish. I used some good rock salt from the local salt beds near the Wawa port area, but I noticed the granules of salt were quite big.****
I had no idea how much salt to put so I guessed, and probably overdid it.*****
Next, I laid the fish out to dry, over a plastic net over a hot stone paved driveway. It was a searingly hot cloudless morning, and I could barely stand barefoot on the stones. I wondered if I might inadvertently cook the fish, but I went ahead anyway, hoping there was enough solar power and sea breezes to do this right. I know, I know, you are thinking bugs and flies right? I covered everything with a finer screen, even though they don’t do that in the provinces… And just in case you were curious, hot pavement of black rocks can rise to 145F or so, about 15F short of being hot enough to cook an egg. The soles of my feet can handle up to about 130-135F I suspect… :)
The morning of searing sun quickly turned dark and ominous some 4 hours later, so rather than 6-8 hours of drying, we took the fish away and packed them individually and froze them. This was version #1. Just salted, and semi-dried.******
While the fish looked and smelled fine after its partial drying (I was pretty sure I wouldn’t poison myself), it certainly DIDN’T look like the lighter, meatier day-old flying fish I had brought back from Batanes…
…which made me wonder if I was doing this right. Thankfully, I had also tried another version (next post).
The next morning, we fried up the first attempt at maytahes/dibang or day-old flying fish and that’s the photo all the way up top. It looked a bit ragged, but it tasted pretty good, but it was way too salty. I would have rated it a 6/10.0 compared to the beautiful dibang from Batanes, above. But here are some tips if you want to do it yourself, and it should yield a 8 or 9 out of 10, assuming you just want a salted flying fish recipe…
*find really large flying fish, say 300-400 grams a piece, if you can. These ones were some 230-250 grams each, and were a tad small.
**use a really sharp thin fillet knife and cut close to the bone cleanly without “sawing” your knife back and forth that makes the meat ragged.
***a straight cut with a cleaver isn’t the best choice. Use a sharp knife to cut out all of the head and any dark bits, but mimic the close up of the Batanes sourced fish that looks like it was trimmed in a “V” cut. Also, I would remove the tail as well.
****Use non-iodized salt like I did, but unlike me, it’s best to crush the salt into a finer consistency so you don’t risk over salting the fish. Better yet, rinse with sea water rather than fresh water before salting.
*****salt with a light hand. I know you think the fish will spoil in the hot sun, but trust that the solar rays and light salt will control the rot nicely… :) TRUST.
******I was beginning to think there were other ingredients involved, and took a guess and tried another version, up next.
Photo #3 was taken by P.O. Thanks!