We haven’t properly replenished our food and cooking supplies after last week’s typhoons, blackout and water problems. We stayed in a hotel for two days and, after checking out yesterday, my husband I went went straight to the supermarket. We had to; otherwise, we would still have to eat instant noodles and cannned meat loaf for dinner last night. The freezer was totally empty after I threw out a pack of chicken and longganisa last Monday (or was it Sunday?). I had to get rid of half a can of Queensland butter, half of a 1-kg block of quickment cheese, a jar of grated parmesan and Romano cheese, a carton of milk that was still three-quarters full, a half-full carton of guava juice, rotting vegetables… so, it was time to go to the supermarket. But replacing everything we had to throw out wasn’t that simple. There were no good vegetables available (not surprising after the typhoons and the floods). The onions were bad and the tomatoes were even worse. Although I was able to get some decent potatoes, I decided to buy the other staples at a later time.
The lack of fresh spices, herbs and vegetables in the house is the reason why this dish of sweet and spicy talakitok (trevally) was cooked with dried herbs and spices. Well, except for the cilantro. By some miracle, my potted cilantro in the backyard survived the typhoons. And although the dill was badly damaged, it did not get uprooted. I’m pretty sure that, in a few weeks, it will grow back in abundance–unless more typhoons hit the Philippines.
Above, the dried herbs and spices I used to cook my sweet and spicy talakitok. I also have dehydrated pimientoes, carrots and onion flakes. I keep them in stock primarily because of our distance from the commercial district. We usually keep a weeks’ supply of fresh herbs, spices and vegetables, but there are days when the supply runs out. While dried herbs, spices and vegetables are convenient, I don’t recommend them as a substitute for the fresh kind. Fresh is best. Fresh tastes better. If you intend to keep your own supply of dried spices, herbs and vegetables, keep them in small amounts. In a humid country like the Philippines, moisture gets trapped in the jars fast and it shortens shelf life.
Now, the recipe for the sweet and spicy talakitok.
- 1 talakitok mine weighed 800 grams, cleaned and gutted
- 1 teaspoon dried garlic bits
- 1 teaspoon dried onion bits
- 1/2 teaspoon dried basil
- 1/2 teaspoon dried parsley
- 1 and 1/2 tablespoons flour
- enough oil for deep frying
- 1 teaspoon chopped cilantro for garnish (optional but recommended)
Pat the fish dry with absorbent kitchen paper. Score diagonally–two to three incisions on either side.
In a small bowl, mix together the salt (how much depends on the size of your fish), garlic, onion, basil and parsley. Insert some of the mixture into the slits on either side of the fish, as much as can be inserted without tearing the fish’s flesh and skin. Rub the remainder all over the fish.
Heat enough cooking oil to submerge the fish. Coat the fish lightly with flour. When the oil is hot (should be smoking), deep fry the fish until golden brown. When done, lift the fish from the oil, letting the excess oil drip into the frying pan. Place the fish on a serving platter.
In a small sauce pan, mix together the ingredients for the sweet and spicy sauce. Cook over medium-high heat, stirring, until the sauce thickens and loses its cloudy appearance.
Pour the sauce over the fish. Sprinkle with chopped cilantro before serving.
For the sweet and spicy sauce :
1 cup of water
2 heaping tbsps. of white sugar
1 tsp. of salt
3-4 tbsps. of tomato ketchup
1 tsp. of dried garlic bits
1 tsp. of dried onion bits
1 tsp. of dried chili flakes
1 tsp. of corn or tapioca starch
1/2 tsp. of sesame seed oil