Grapes, ham, chestnuts, shrimp and herbs… Nope, not your typical pinoy rellenong bangus recipe. But bear with me for a few minutes longer.
I thought the seedless grapes, sliced in half, would bring a hint of freshness, sweetness and acidity to the stuffing. And moisture to keep the stuffing from drying out. Leftover ham in a fine dice to bring that porky, salty goodness that is almost always a good thing. Chestnuts, peeled and chopped for an unconventional hit of starch, flavorful and slightly sweet, a nice stand-in for potatoes, I guessed. And frankly, because I spied them in the fridge, leftovers from a dinner three nights before and I am loath to waste food. Peeled and deveined shrimp because we had it fresh as can be from the markets that morning. Herbs, for color and flavor. No clue if this would work at all or end in disaster…
Here is a step by step guide to Marketman’s first rellenong bangus, ever… :) First, a big glug of excellent unfiltered olive oil. Any good olive oil, would do. :)
Add some seedless grapes into the pan, and saute for a few seconds to just wilt the grapes and slightly reduce moisture content.
Next, add in the diced ham…
…then peeled chestnuts…
…saute for a few seconds until fragrant and coated in oil.
Next add the peeled and deveined shrimp…
…season generously with salt and pepper. Generously. :)
Add the previously steamed, de-boned and flaked bangus meat ans toss lightly to mix. Taste and season again if necessary.
Set aside to cool. I added some chopped Italian parsley and you could add basil or any other herbs you like.
Add in an egg or two to moisten the filling further. Beat it first. Not like I did in the photo. :)
Now watch MM struggle with getting the wonderful stuffing into the fish. It sounds simple enough, but with big hands and the bangus head flopping about, this was trickier than I expected. Patience is useful sometimes.
I tried stuffing with a spoon, then my fingers, and probably most of my fist.
Can you see and feel the quiet frustration… :)
Then horror of all horrors, I had a puncture! A frigging tear in the skin. A grape popped out. Yikes, the fish had been seriously violated (as though getting its insides totally cleaned out wasn’t violation enough) I probably didn’t cut the skin with my stuffing, it was likely cut at the market, but who cares who is to blame, it happened on my first rellenong bangus! :( But not to worry, this is a forgiving dish… just use a strip of scotch tape and go on as usual. I jest of course, just checking if you are reading post carefully, I DID NOT use scotch tape!
I asked “M” to step in and salvage the stuffing. She finished my first rellenong bangus. :) I know, I wimped out. That’s okay, I understand how it’s SUPPOSED to be done.
In another departure from the deep fried style of most rellenong bangus, I wrapped this one in foil, drizzled the skin with good olive oil and seasoned with salt and cracked black pepper and sealed this up and baked it in a hot oven for some 25-30 minutes.
The skin didn’t crisp up — I hadn’t expected it to, with all that steaming action in the foil, but it turned out looking marvelous anyway. It smelled good, it looked good… now the only question was did it TASTE good?
It tasted WONDERFUL! A real slam dunk. Not a classic take on rellenong bangus, but a flavorful, delicious stuffed fish, with bursts of flavor from the grapes and ham, textural shifts from the chestnuts and shrimp and the nice flakey fish. It was moist and really quite good. But it wasn’t something you would eat with rice… maybe better with roasted baby potatoes, or some good bread. The crew, who are mostly traditionalists, liked this version as well. They were really quite surprised by it. I suspect the filling would have tasted good on its own, without even bothering to stuff the fish, but overall this was a really slam dunk experiment. I highly recommend it. Play with your food once in a while, you just might be surprised what you end up with! :)
Note: Some photos on this post taken by Mrs. MM.