At the Nasugbu market recently, this large Labahita was yelling “buy me!, buy me!, grill me!, eat me!,” so I did. It is probably a Blackstreak Surgeonfish but don’t hold me to that as there are so many different bloody types of surgeonfish that it’s more than a tad confusing. Just make sure you haven’t purchased a poisonous aquarium specimen. Relatively large at about 1.8 kilos, the fish was reasonable at just P80 a kilo.
Many consider Labahita a more economical alternative to other white meat fish such as Lapu-lapu (Grouper) or Talakitok (Jack/Trevally). Served in large fillets, cubed, or as a whole fish fried or grilled, the meat is best described as dense and substantial. I suspect it features heavily in those large buffet style “mystery fish” type dishes at hotels and restaurants. In theory, it holds up less on its own, it needs sauces or batters or dips to enhance or shortcomings. Sweet and sour sauce slathered all over it is a frequently seen option.
Grilled Labahita with 3 Dipping Sauces. Being at the beach, we decided on the no fuss, no muss approach. Just cleaned out the guts, prepared a hot charcoal fire and threw the fish whole onto the grill and watched the skin turn a frightening charcoal black! We removed the charred skin and served the fillets with three sauces. From left to right in the photo: a) a dill, lemon, mustard mayonnaise sauce, b) a patis (fish sauce), kalamansi (calamondin), sili (chili) and wansoy (coriander) sauce and c) a soya, lime and ginger sauce.
If you prefer less torching, you could probably wrap this is foil or moist banana leaves before putting over the fire… The fish wasn’t bad but it wasn’t the best… still have to search for a better recipe for the next time a fish yells at me in the market.