Adobong hito sa gata is a twice cooked dish. I wish there was some way of ditching the frying part but if you braise the hito (catfish) directly in the coconut milk, the fish will turn soggy. It’s the mistake I’ve made in the past.
The only way to make sure that the fish stays firm is to deep-fry it first so that a crust forms on the surface. That crust is the only thing that can prevent the fish from crumbling while it is simmered in coconut milk.
If you want an even better solution to the soggy-crumbling problem, use small catfish. Those about six inches long are ideal for this dish. Not my personal preference since I don’t like small fish. If you want to use bigger ones (I used a 1-kilogram fish for this recipe), I can tell you a trick or two.
Use only the freshest catfish — live ones that are still jumping and wiggling when you buy them. Ask the fish monger to gut the fish and remove the gills but to leave it in one piece.
Adobong hito sa gata
- 1 whole hito (catfish) at least a kilogram in weight
To clean the fish
- ½ cup rock salt
- 1 cup vinegar
To fry the fish
- 3 cups cooking oil
To braise the fish
To complete the dish
- chopped cilantro optional but recommended
Clean the fish
- Place the fish in a large pan (a basin is better).
- Soak the fish in a mixture of salt and vinegar for about 20 minutes to get rid of the sliminess (see notes below).
- Once you’ve cleaned the fish, cut it into four or five portions.
Fry the fish
- Heat enough cooking oil in a fryer or a wok so that the fish pieces are totally submerged in oil. You can do this in batches so don't worry if your largest fryer won't allow you to cook all the pieces at the same time (see notes below).
- Cook the fish until the outside is crisp. Scoop out and allow to drain well on a rack.
Braise the fish
- Pour off the oil from the pan, leaving about a tablespoonful or so.
- Saute half a head of minced garlic and a thinly sliced onion.
- Pour in 1/4 cup of vinegar. Let boil.
- Add some peppercorns and a bay leaf.
- Return the fried catfish to the pan.
- Pour in about 2 cups of coconut milk.
- Season with salt.
- Boil gently, uncovered, for about 10 minutes, turning the fish over halfway through. After 10 minutes the liquid will be reduced and the sauce will be a little thicker. Don’t worry if the sauce still appears too thin at this point. It will thicken as it cools.
Garnish and serve
- Use kitchen tongs to transfer the fish pieces to a serving platter. Pour the sauce over and around them.
- Chop some cilantro (coriander leaves) and sprinkle on the fish before serving.