Dalag (mudfish) and vegetables cooked with gata, the freshly squeezed cream from grated coconut, is a dish rich in flavor, color, texture and aroma.
When buying dalag, choose one that is still alive. Ask the fish vendor to kill it (gosh, that sounds bad, doesn’t it, but what other term is there… execute?) and take out the gills and intestines. I made the mistake once of bringing home a live dalag. When it started thrashing around in my kitchen sink, I didn’t know what to do. We were having minor remodelling jobs done in the house at the time and I asked the carpenter to hit the fish with his hammer. After that, it was a real struggle to remove the gills and the intestines. They are more difficult to remove from a fresh fish. They come out more easily if the fish had been dead for a while.
Coconut cream, or kakang gata, is pure coconut cream extracted from freshly grated coconut. To extract coconut cream, place grated coconut in a fine cotton cloth like katsa (muslin), roll the cloth and squeeze. If fresh coconut cream is unavailable, you can substitute the powdered or canned variety, although the flavor and aroma will be different.
When cooking with coconut cream or milk, it is best to simmer it uncovered to prevent curdling.
3/4 kilo of dalag (mudfish), cut in serving pieces
2 c. of kakang gata (coconut cream)
1 tbsp. of minced garlic
1 onion, diced
2 tomatoes, diced
2 c. of kalabasa (squash), cut into 2″ x 2″ cubes
1 c. of sitaw or sitao (string beans), cut into 2″ x 2″ lengths
1 talong (eggplant), cut in 2″ x 2″ cubes
1 pc. of siling labuyo (chili)
1 c. of cooking oil
patis (fermented fish sauce) or salt, to taste
ground black pepper
Cooking procedure :
Rub dalag with salt. Heat a heavy skillet. Pour oil. Heat to smoking point. Over high heat, fry dalag pieces, in batches if necessary, until golden brown. Drain on paper towels and set aside.
Drain oil from skillet until only a tablespoon remains. Reheat oil. Over medium-high heat, fry garlic, chili and onion until the garlic starts to brown. Add tomatoes and continue cooking until the tomatoes start to crumble. Add sitaw. Stir for about a minute until the sitaw starts to turn a deep green. Add eggplant pieces and cook for another minute. Add kalabasa cubes and stir. Lower heat to medium-low and pour coconut cream. Cook uncovered, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are done. Add water, if necessary, half a cup at a time. The consistency you want is a thick sauce. When vegetables are done and you have the right consistency for the sauce, season with patis until fish is heated through. Serve hot.