My first attempt at dried flying fish or dibang, here, yielded so-so results. I had a nagging feeling that what I was attempting to re-create wasn’t just a day-old or semi-dried salted fish, but something a bit more refined. So with that thought already imbedded, I finished batch #1 and immediately moved onto a second kilo of fish… with the provincial concept in mind of “lamayo” or “labtingaw” or vinegar-marinated semi-dried fish from forays to Palawan and Visayan islands where they practice that, I wondered if the Maytahes dibang was in fact marinated in vinegar first (I would later find out from a sole blog reference to this dish that it may in fact be marinated)…
Taking off from the previous post, take the cleaned fish and dip into a marinade of coconut vinegar, salt, crushed black pepper and copious amounts of smashed garlic. I was afraid of “cooking” the fish, so only briefly washed the fish with vinegar. Some our crew looked on disapprovingly, expecting me to leave the fish in the vinegar for a while. In retrospect, I would recommend you linger while bathing the fish, more than getting wet, but not quite sitting in a bath, if you know what I mean.
The vinegar has several purposes. The first is to remove cooties or potential cooties. It also bleaches the meat of the fish, making it “whiter” or paler. It adds a hint of sourness, but this is balanced out with the salt. The garlic and pepper add flavor.
I sprinkled good local sea salt on the bathed fish. I put too much. Next time, either simply heavily salt the vinegar mixture and skip the direct salting step, or pull back on the salt, sprinkling lightly some finer natural salt instead.
Lay out in the hot sun to semi-dry. Note that the vinegar kissed fish nearest me are already paler than the previous batch of salt cured fish. Imagine if I had left it for a few more minutes in the vinegar…
…Chief of Stuff insisted on dotting each fish with lots of garlic and sprinkled on some of the marinade, afraid I was either going to kill all of us with bacteria growth or just because he is from Palawan, and holder of the key to proper lamayo… He was right, of course. :) After roughly 4 hours of drying, we put the dibang in plastic bags and froze them. I would recommend doing at least 6-7 hours (but we couldn’t as the sun turned to ominous storm clouds).
Taken out of the freezer ten days later, note the uneven bleaching of the meat. I think I could have marinated the fish for a minute or so longer.
Heat up some vegetable oil (or better yet, lard)and fry the dibang for a few minutes until cooked through and slightly golden in color.
I thought this looked pretty darned good.
But the fish we enjoyed in Batanes had an extra layer of crispness, and I wondered if they had sprinkled it with flour or cornstarch, so I gave this a try…
…et VOILA! maytahes dibang or day-old semi-dried and marinated flying fish a la Marketman (floured one on the right, above photo). Definitely an 8 or 8.5 out of 10.0 I think. I wouldn’t be embarrassed to serve this to guests any day. But to get to that 9 or 9.5 rating (will never get to the 10.0 tasted in Batanes, as location and terroir add that final 0.5 points) here’s what I would do in addition to the tips in the previous post… use bigger fish, fillet more carefully, cut off the head and tails neatly, marinate in vinegar solution for at least 1-2 minutes, and salt lightly. Dry for 6-7 hours and fry with a light coating of flour or cornstarch. Fry in hot lard. Are you salivating yet? Throw in a huge pile of homemade acharra and unlimited rice, please. Spicy vinegar a must. :)