We have been entertaining house guests for the last few days who have been family friends for over 50 years. For one of them, it’s been nearly 50 years since her last visit to Manila. In the 1960’s, my father was close to several of the American families assigned to Manila at the American Embassy, aid agencies, and other similar postings. My older siblings in particular have remained close to children of these expat families, and over the years we have kept in touch with some of them. It’s our pleasure to be their host for a few days down memory lane (in many cases, buildings, streets and structures they recall no longer exist). We took our guests to the beach overnight, and this is one of the things we fed them for lunch. It was a hit.
I am not fond of many examples of rellenong bangus or stuffed bangus that turn our dry and tasteless. I have done some myself, here and here and here, to pretty good results. But honestly, the extraction of meat, retention of whole skin, re-stuffing, shown in detail here and here, etc. is a bit of a pain. So this time around, I asked the same lady who prepared this fish the last time to just splay open a medium sized bangus, de-bone it (say 85% of the bones that is) and leave the head on so I could experiment with it.
Into a saute pan I added some vegetable oil, then minced ginger, garlic, onions and sliced finger chilies. I let that saute for a while, then added chopped red bell pepper and lots of chopped fresh tomatoes. After some of the liquid had evaporated, I added a bit of patis or fish sauce, some kikkoman, salt and pepper. This was a nice moist flavorful filling. And lots of it (who likes a fish scrimpily stuffed?)…
Season the bangus meat with salt and pepper, then add in the stuffing, close this all up and tie it with some butchers twine. We used abaca twine, but forgot to soak it. Ideally, you need to soak it. :) Drizzle some vegetable oil over the skin of the fish.
Cover with banana leaves that have been previously heated to make it more malleable, then tie again with twine. Place over a hot fire. And wait for the sizzling sounds from within. If your fire is just right “not burn your eyebrows off hot”, nor “I can keep my hand over the flames for 5 seconds cool” either then one side should take just 5 minutes of so for a medium sized fish. Carefully, repeat carefully flip it over once and cook another 5 minutes or just under that and hope it is just perfectly cooked. We erred on 2 minutes overcooked, so I have adjusted times on this post to reflect what I think would be ideal at this point.
Despite the rather dry twine, we didn’t spring a leak and that is the ideal situation. All the moisture remains in the banana blanket and all of the flavor is intact as well.
The results? Fantastic for a first try. Meat was a tad overdone but the stuffing was delicious. And if you judiciously spread the stuffing to each forkful of meat, it is a delicious match indeed. This is a much easier version compared with a real rellenong bangus, but the results were just as good, if not better, in my opinion. :)