Budget cooking: sweet and sour pla-pla
At the market yesterday morning, I was shocked at the prices of fish. Whole talakitok (trevally) at three hundred pesos per kilo, maya-maya steaks (red snapper) at two hundred and seventy and tanigue (Spanish mackerel?) steaks at a jaw-dropping three hundred and seventy per kilo.
It’s even more shocking when you consider that the Philippines is an archipelago of over 7,000 islands. We have so much water teeming with marine life that it’s quite incredible that the high price of fish is due to some shortage. But there is a kind of shortage. Two reasons: First, the Philippines has an export economy. We export the best of our produce and what get sold locally are only the ones that would get rejected by rich countries. Second, foreign corporations are allowed to fish in our seas and what they catch they ship directly to their countries for consumption or to their buyers elsewhere. I hate politicizing food like this but all that is true.
So, what then? Give up seafood? Not necessarily. Just choose the less expensive varieties. Like pla-pla. What is pla-pla? A college friend whose family owned fish ponds in Laguna once invited us for a weekend and served a lot of grilled pla-pla. I wasn’t familiar with the term, I asked what it was and he said they are big tilapia. If a tilapia is over a kilogram in weight, it is pla-pla. There are others who claim, however, that pla-pla is a cross-breed of tilapia and lapu-lapu (grouper). I don’t know which description is more accurate but I known that I love tilapia and I prefer them large. So, turning away from the expensive tanigue and talakitok, I bought a whole pla-pla (ninety pesos per kilo), a few maya-maya steaks (cheaper than both talakitok and tanigue) and a half a head of maya-maya (a hundred and seventy per kilo).
I was thinking of steaming the pla-pla to update the steamed whole fish recipe that I posted some eleven and a half years ago but Speedy was fantasizing about fried fish with crisp skin. We compromised. I’d fry the pla-pla but I’d serve it with sweet and sour sauce. There is a sweet and sour fish recipe in the archive but I did this one differently. Instead of making sweet and sour sauce from scratch which would have taken at least 20 minutes, I added a few things to the sweet chili sauce that I had made to turn it into a sweet and sour sauce.
I added a few teaspoonfuls of rice wine vinegar to the sweet chili sauce, I miscalculated and made it too sour and too thin so I added honey to balance the sweet with the sour. Then, to deepen the color, a drizzle of chili and garlic sauce. Sweet and sour sauce done in less than a minute.
Then, I fried the pla-pla which I had earlier scored and salted (you might want to see how to score a whole fish). Fried to a crisp just like Speedy likes his fish.
And that was what remained of the pla-pla.
Oh, yes, as cheap as it was, dinner was very good.