It isn’t necessary that you cook pesa (a light soup flavored with ginger and peppercorns) with dalag (mudfish). In one of the earliest entries in this blog, I lamented how a lot of people like to take on the role of purists by claiming that pesa is not pesa unless cooked with dalag. I later on realized it must be because these people have only eaten pesa with dalag so they don’t know that it’s actually the blend of spices and that make the pesa broth distinct from other Filipino soup dishes.
Among the soup dishes in Philippine cuisine, pesang isda has got to be one of the easiest to prepare and I make it with just about any kind of fleshy fish and even with fish heads. Yesterday, however, I was at the market and there were these huge dalag jumping and wiggling inside large nets and only two things entered my mind: pesa and binukakang dalag. I bought two large fish with a total weight of two kilograms. One went into the pesa that we had for lunch; the other was fried for dinner and served with clam soup.
If the recipe seems lengthy, it’s because I am including the recipe for miso sauce. I used yellow miso, usually saltier than white which is on the sweet side.
- 1 whole dalag (mudfish), about 1 kg., scaled, gutted and scrubbed well to remove the slime, and cut to serving size pieces
1 bunch of pechay (local Chinese cabbage) or a combination of pechay and repolyo (white cabbage)
1 large onion, finely sliced
1 tomato (optional, I added the tomato for color, basically), diced
1 thumb-sized piece of ginger, peeled and thinly sliced
3 cloves of garlic, crushed and peeled
1 tsp. (or more) of whole black peppercorns
3 to 4 tbsps. of vegetable cooking oil
patis (fish sauce), to taste
For the miso sauce:
about a cup of yellow miso (available in vegetable stalls in wet markets; also available in most supermarkets)
3 cloves of garlic
2 tbsps. of vegetable cooking oil
patis, to taste
Saute the onion, garlic, ginger and tomato, if using. Cook, stirring, until the vegetables soften a little.
Add the fish. Pour in enough water to cover. Add peppercorns. Bring to the boil. Remove the froth (scum) that forms on the surface as it will make the soup cloudy.
Prepare the pechay. Wash, cut off the root ends and, if rather large, cut right across the middle.
Add the pechay to the pot, pushing the leaves down. Season with patis to taste.
Continue boiling for a minute then cover the pot and turn off the heat. Both the fish and greens will continue cooking in the residual heat. I find this the best way not to overcook them.
While the fish finishes cooking in the residual heat, prepare the miso sauce.
Finely slice an onion, chop a tomato and three cloves of garlic.
Heat about two tablespoonfuls of vegetable oil and saute the garlic, onion and tomato until they start to soften.
Add the miso and stir. The mixture will appear much too dry at this point.
Take some of the broth from the pesa and pour into the miso mixture little by little, no more than a few tablespoonfuls at a time, until the mixture is of the desired consistency. Some people like the sauce to be almost soupy; others prefer it thick. When the consistency of the miso sauce is just right, add patis to taste.
Serve the pesang dalag with the miso sauce on the side.
Cooking time (duration): 30 minutes
Number of servings (yield): 2 to 3