03 Jan2013


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. :)



  1. Mimi says:

    My lola was an expert at this too! She would bugbog the scaled skin with a rolling pin before inserting the wooden handle of a spoon between skin and meat to get it out whole. The meat was cooked adobo style, and we apos were tasked to flake the cooked bangus meat and remove the tinik.

    Jan 3, 2013 | 10:02 pm


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  3. Cora says:

    Thank you, MM for showing and sharing the step by step method of separating the meat from the skin of bangus. Hopefully, I don’t have to do sewing, and nursing ( sterilizing the needle and boiling the thread) while preparing to cook. Feels like my family will have good eats soon.

    Jan 3, 2013 | 10:40 pm

  4. Natie says:

    I tried making this once, more than 20 years ago..turned out fine. Too much work.

    Jan 4, 2013 | 12:52 am

  5. Alilay says:

    parang ni-liposuction yung bangus …. Hard to do here wala ng manang Hindi gagawin ni kuya yan sa seafood city.

    Jan 4, 2013 | 1:05 am

  6. chad says:

    My goodness Manang Puring looks so wizened! You just have to believe she’s an expert. siya yung mga tipong nagbibigay ng agimat.

    Jan 4, 2013 | 1:24 am

  7. Footloose says:

    I share your objections about rellenong bangus. Sometimes we can be too quick to judge dishes on the basis of a bad attempt but I hold vivid recollection of my mom’s and they were invariably very good. I attributed it to the fresh bangus she worked on that were just minutes away from having been scooped out of water. Just a couple of years ago though, a cousin, no mean cook herself, put me in the scent of the possible reason for the problem, she claimed that actually, bangus for relleno need not be quite so fresh…

    At any rate, still seems much struggle for too little wool. I would rather bet my resources on the even pickier rellenong alimasag that unfailingly rewards me with a beautiful bonanza.

    Jan 4, 2013 | 2:39 am

  8. marilen says:

    Love this segment – I recall your previous step by step photos ‘ how-to of ‘professionals’ – making lumpia wrappers, etc.

    Jan 4, 2013 | 4:34 am

  9. Dragon says:

    MM, it is more polite to “ask” a woman’s age than hazard (or make a hazardous guess) a number…:-D

    I don’t mind rellenos, I see it as a complete meal.

    Jan 4, 2013 | 4:36 am

  10. Kron says:

    A couple of years back I was able to help out clean and prep about a dozen large-ish bangus for relleno (for a clan occasion which I can’t exactly remember now), and the rellenong bangus expert at the helm taught us how to do this exact process using the flat handle end of that ubiquitous aluminum/stainless steel sandok Filipinos have in their kitchens… I would say it’s not a terribly exacting process (there’s this sweet spot right underneath the skin layer and once you get the hang of it it’s quite easy), but rather “matrabaho” as we like to call it. I guess any implement thin enough and slim enough (and with sufficient length), as long as the edges are rather blunt and not too sharp, may be used to separate the skin. I’m one of those people who don’t really like rellenong bangus too, I find them too dry and oily most of the time, and the taste is a kinda “all over the place”. Maybe I should try making one and come up with a winner recipe/cooking method myself. :)

    Jan 4, 2013 | 5:04 am

  11. Elodie Amora says:

    whoa! she makes it look so easy!

    Jan 4, 2013 | 7:17 am

  12. pixienixie says:

    I don’t like relleno – I’d much rather eat grilled bangus. However, in our family “rellenong bangus” does not involve separating the meat from the skin. We just slit the belly part of the bangus, stuff a mixture of tomatoes, onions, and garlic inside, and call it “relleno”. Not accurate at all…

    Jan 4, 2013 | 7:20 am

  13. ami says:

    Same with pixienixie, looks like I grew up with the wrong notion of what a relenong bangus is. The relenong bangus that I know of also has the meat intact with the skin. Only the bones are moved then we stuff tomatoes, garlic and onions inside and grill.

    Jan 4, 2013 | 8:15 am

  14. millet says:

    like pixienixie, i don’t like rellenong bangus either, and would prefer inihaw. the relleno style i grew up with is easier to do – you slice the bangus lengthwise down the back(“daing”-style), scoop out all the flesh, flake and debone the flesh and cook it with the rest of the stuffing ingredients, put back everything, and sew up the back. in my view, too much effort.

    but chicken relleno, galantina and morcon…now that’s another story!

    Jan 4, 2013 | 8:15 am

  15. Clarissa says:

    I love rellenong bangus that we have this regularly at home. Though of course, we have the skin separated from the meat in the market already. But we love it so much that we don’t mind eating just the meat with no need to encase it anymore in fish skin (it looks a bit like torta, but yummier) :) That actually became a norm when we were too lazy to go to the palengke whenever we wanted rellenong bangus.

    Jan 4, 2013 | 10:56 am

  16. mel says:

    very few fish vendor can do this dubious task. this particular dish is a favourite. my in law is the expert of this dish. she does it with minimal of ingredients. you can really taste the milkfish and not the potatoes that other add. others do it like an embotido, some would taste like fish lumpia.

    Jan 4, 2013 | 11:07 am

  17. Rob says:

    relleno: stuffing (n)
    rellenar: to stuff (v)

    Jan 4, 2013 | 1:24 pm

  18. odessa says:

    our suki at the market do all the prepping as well and thank god for that. i made it for the first time a month ago and not sure if kelan mauulit …

    Jan 7, 2013 | 8:12 am

  19. Mrs Froggie says:

    You read my mind, MM! I just bought 2 big bangus from Seafood City, Seattle. Actually, Tukwilla, I think. Anyway, I ‘ve been to the Philippines twice just this end of the year 2012 and I’ve sort of been trying to get my “Filipino -cooking- legs” on so to speak. I’m about to cook rellenong bangus which was so easy for me back in the ’80’s when here you are posting this article! Like you, my favorite is rellenong alimasag! It seems such a tedious task to “himay” the alimasag meat and saute it and stuff it back into the shell, put beaten eggs on top and fry the rellenong alimasag just to gobble it so fast!!! I am not one who chews her food 50 x before swallowing it. Perhaps I should, to really savour what I’m eating, he, he,he… Thank you for all your kindness in sharing with us and enhancing our enjoyment of being a Filipino! HAPPY NEW YEAR and more Happy Posting, MM !!!

    Jan 7, 2013 | 1:44 pm

  20. january says:

    we have suki at the Guadalupe market and they don’t charge any for separating the skin or even if we request them to debone it. HNY! :)

    Jan 7, 2013 | 4:28 pm


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