In one of my cookbooks, there is an Irish recipe called family fish cakes made with mashed boiled potatoes and flaked boiled fish. When we go to Chinese restaurants, I often order one of my favorite fried dimsum treats called taro puffs–ground pork and vegetables wrapped in grated boiled taro then deep fried until golden. I said I’d re-define Filipino cuisine, and here is one attempt. A fish and vegetable dish cooked with native Filipino ingredients using a non-traditional technique (meaning this is neither a soup, de-sarsa or deep fried). This is a dish made with boiled and mashed gabi (taro) mixed with flaked boiled bangus (milkfish), chopped bell peppers, onions, wansuy (cilantro) and beaten eggs, then pan-fried in very little oil just until set and golden. I’m just so sick of people talking about the limitations of Filipino cooking. It’s about time we get more creative and innovative. It’s not as if it’s my first time to experiments with ingredients and techniques. Some of my experiments failed (the ones I don’t bother to blog about), others were moderately successful and some others were real hits not just with my family but with dinner guests as well. This dish is now included in the list of hits.
Cooking this dish was even sweeter because I had to do everything myself. While the househelp ordinarily assists with the chopping of the onions (I really don’t like doing that because it hurts my eyes) and the cleaning-as-you-go stuff, she was busy running after one of our dogs who got loose from the leash and decided to terrorize our pet chickens. It took some time before the dog was securely leashed.
Unfortunately, I cannot provide exact measurements. I chose and added ingredients as I prepared the mixture. I started with a bangus that weighed over a kilogram. The fish was cut horizontally into six. I used the head and another piece–what we call gilit meaning a piece between the head and the tail. I placed them in a saucepan with a little water, added salt and boiled them for 10 minutes–just until they were cooked.
Three pieces of gabi, each about the size of the mouse of the computer were washed and scrubbed, and boiled until tender. I drained the gabi and while still hot, I used a small knife to remove the skin. After that, I used the back of a fork to mash the gabi.
While the gabi was boiling, I flaked the bangus–meat, skin and all the good stuff on its head, including the eyes and cheeks. I took a red bell pepper, an onion and a few stalks of wansuy (cilantro) and cut them into very small pieces. I mixed everything together, added salt, pepper, four tablespoonfuls of fine breadcrumbs and three beaten eggs. Then I formed them into patties or cakes.
The best way to cook this dish is with a non-stick skillet. That way, the amount of oil will really be minimal. Note that you cannot deep fry bangus-gabi mixture. If there is too much oil in the skillet, the patty will float and disintegrate. Hence, the need for the minimum amount of oil. My best suggestion is to pour oil into the skillet until it is about 1/8″ inch deep. Slide a turner or a spatula under the patty, lift it and slide it into the hot oil. Cook only 2-3 patties at a time. After about two minutes, partially lift a patty with the turner. If the underside has turned golden, flip it to cook the other side. Do the same for all the patties. Note that since mashed gabi does not absorb as much oil as potatoes do, you will need to add just a little more oil, if at all, to cook all the patties. I had eight gabi and bangus cakes each about 3 to 4 inches in diameter and an inch thick.