In the menu of Bulawan Floating Restaurant in Pililla, it is called crispy dalag. Split-open, the whole mudfish is deep-fried until a crisp golden crust forms on the surface. In a place in Tanay called Kainan sa Tabi ng Lawa (eatery by the lake), the same dish is called binukakang dalag.
In much the same way that I cannot think of a proper translation for the word malansa, I have no exact translation either for binukaka. The root word is buka (open). Bukaka means legs spread wide open and binukaka would mean forced to spread wide open. I know that it conjures naughty erotic images but I doubt if binukakang dalag can satisfy prurient interests. The best way to describe the dish is to call it crispy butterflied mudfish.
My version of binukakang dalag is grilled, not deep-fried. And, yes, it is possible for the fish to have a crisp golden surface without frying. The trick is to brush the fish with oil before putting it on the grill. In my case, that’s the convection oven.
I use both the bottom and top heat. The bottom heat ensures that the fish gets cooked through, the top heat gives the fish flesh a lovely charred and crisp texture.
But let’s start at the beginning. In local wet markets, dalag (mudfish) is sold fresh. Fresh as in live. You will see all the dalag inside a net, you specify how many you want (or the equivalent in live weight) and the fish monger dips her hand inside the net and catches the fish for you.
The fish monger hits the head of the dalag with an oversized mallet and, when it is still, it is gutted and cleaned.
Now, the default way of prepping dalag in the market is to cut the fish into serving portions. But you want to bring home the fish in one piece. So, before the fish monger starts cleaning the fish, say that you want it prepared a la daing so that the fish scales are not removed and, instead of cutting the fish into portions, it is split open from head to tail, and the head and spine scored in places.
Binukakang Dalag (Crispy Butterflied Mudfish)
For the dipping sauce
- 2 tablespoons kalamansi juice
- 2 tablespoons soy sauce
- 2 bird’s eye chilies
- Rub the fish all over with rock salt to remove the sliminess. Rinse and repeat a few times.
- Dry the fish with a kitchen towel. Removing excess liquid will help in making the fish crisp.
- Season the fish by rubbing salt and pepper liberally directly on the flesh (see notes below).
- Brush the fish with cooking oil — not the skin but the flesh of the fish.
- Cook in a pre-heated 450F oven (top and bottom heat) for 15 to 20 minutes or until the fish is lightly browned. DO NOT OVERCOOK. Nothing ruins fresh fish faster than overcooking.
Make the dipping sauce
- Mix together the kalamansi juice, soy sauce and crushed chilies, and serve on the side as a dipping sauce.
If you cooked this dish (or made this drink) and you want to share your masterpiece, please use your own photos and write the cooking steps in your own words.