As I was editing the pictures of this relyenong bangus in Photoshop, I couldn’t help but wish I styled it differently. In hindsight, I think the fish would have presented better if I kept the head attached to the body instead of cutting it apart to showcase the filling. Usually, when I am not pleased with my photo composition or lighting, I just cook the dish again and do a re-shoot. I have done this on quite a few of my old food photos~arroz caldo, pork adobo and pancit guisado to name a few~ but to cook relyenong bangus again just for pictures? Insanity.
Relyenong bangus is more a special occasion dish than an everyday family dinner for a reason. The making of this stuffed fish entails a very involved process and a tedious amount of work that it is usually reserved for parties and celebrations. As much as it is one of my favorite ways to enjoy milkfish, I often balk at the prospect of deboning, flaking, sauteing, stuffing, sewing (yes, sewing!) and frying all for the sake of one meal. But with that said and done, relyenong bangus is certainly a unique and delicious Pinoy dish worthy of time and effort.
Prep Time: 1 hr
Cook Time: 30 mins
Total Time: 1 hr 30 mins
Author: Lalaine Manalo
1 large whole bangus milkfish
juice of 1 lemon
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 cup water
1 small onion peeled and chopped
2 cloves garlic peeled and minced
1 large carrot peeled and finely chopped
1/2 cup frozen green peas thawed
1/4 cup raisins
2 tablespoons oyster sauce
salt and pepper to taste
1/2 cup flour
Scale fish and remove innards, leaving belly intact. Break the spine near the tail and right below the head. Through the fish neck, insert a long, thin spatula between the skin and the flesh all the way to the tail. Gently go around the sides of the fish with the spatula to loosen and separate the flesh from the skin. Remove the spatula. Starting from the tail, squeeze and push the flesh out through the neck. Pull the flesh including the big bone out of the fish. Insert a long spoon into the cavity and gently scrape the inside to remove any flesh left, making sure to leave skin and head firm and intact.
In a shallow dish, combine the hollowed skin, lemon juice and soy sauce. Marinate in the refrigerator for about 30 minutes.
Remove the big bone (spine) from the flesh. In a pot, bring about 1 cup lightly salted water to a boil. Add the fish meat and cook for about 3 to 5 minutes or until color changes. Drain from liquid. Flake and debone fish meat.
In a a skillet over medium heat, heat oil. Add onions and garlic and cook until limp. Add carrots and cook for 1 to 2 minutes or until tender yet crisp. Add fish meat, green peas and raisins. Cook, stirring occasionally, until heated through. Add oyster sauce and stir to combine. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Remove from pan.
In a large bowl, combine fish mixture and egg. Using a spoon, stuff and fill fish mixture into skin. Sew the head to the body and any openings to prevent the filling from spilling.
In a shallow dish, combine flour, salt and pepper to taste. Lightly dredge stuffed fish in flour to coat.
In a wide, deep pan over medium heat, heat about 3 inches deep of oil (enough to deep-fry fish fully submerged). Add fish and cook, gently turning on sides as needed, until golden and crisp. Remove from pan and drain on paper towels. Let stand and allow to cool before slicing. Serve with ketchup.
Do not overstuff the bangus as it may burst during frying. Use any leftover fish mixture to make lumpia or fish patties. One other method I’ve seen is wrapping the stuffed fish (without dredging in flour) tightly with aluminum foil or banana leaves before frying. Although it does make turning the fish during the frying easier, this method does not yield the same crisp results as dredging in flour and directly frying the bangus in oil does.