I take it that “relleno” means to stuff or is the stuffing. There are several Spanish or continentally inspired dishes in the relleno style present in the Philippines… rellenong alimasag or stuffed crab shells, rellenong manok or galantina, morcon, and of course rellenong bangus or stuffed milkfish. Growing up, I was NEVER really a fan of the relleno style dishes, with the exception of the stuffed crabs, or come to think of it, stuffed green capsicums… I found the dishes to be fussy party or holiday food, often dryish, less than tasty and/or poorly executed, with weird ingredient substitutions (like vienna sausages) to add insult to injury. They also seemed like a royal pain the ass to make. Rellenong bangus is a perfect example. Separating the skin from all of the flesh/meat while keeping the casing completely whole seems like an excrutciatingly complicated thing to master. But now if you find a kind and skillful manang (or experienced fishwife) at the market, this first daunting step is handled adeptly and for just PHP30 or 75 U.S. cents per large milkfish, making the dish a WHOLE lot simpler… :)
Manang Puring must be well into her seventies (I didn’t want to ask), if not early eighties. She is the sole fishwife at the Nasugbu market that can quickly and neatly separate a bangus skin from its flesh without piercing or damaging the skin. Here, is how she did it.
First start with an 800-1,000 gram (0.8-1.0 kilo) bangus or milkfish and grip it firmly and scale it. They have a lot of scales, but they seem to come off relatively easily.
With kitchen shears, Puring cut in the fish equivalent of what I can only describe as the jugular. That’s technically inaccurate, but I am hoping you get the picture, literally. :)
Extract the gills…
…and guts and rinse with water.
Insert a long, spatula like metal implement to separate the flesh of the fish from it’s skin.
This would seem to be a rather delicate operation, but in fact, Puring was quite ruthless about handling the slimy beast. I was so sure the skin would be punctured in places, but out of three fish we had done, I think only a slight tear was done to one of the fish.
The inverted skinning process took just a minute or so (I know it would take me FAR FAR LONGER and a lot more sweating and swearing to do the same). Then the shears were inserted to snip off something at the belly area that was connected to the skin.
One last go with the spatula like instrument, all around the fish… and the next steps will be outlined in a second post up soon. Stay tuned for Part II. :)