Today is about bangus (milkfish), the national fish of the Philippines. Not because I’m feeling nationalistic but because I was lucky enough to find baby bangus in the market. Been searching for them for a long time because I miss making pressure-cooked bangus sardines-style. While substituting some other small fish isn’t a bad idea, there’s still nothing like the delicate flavor and firm flesh of bangus.
The other day, I bought a kilo of baby bangus in addition to the bisugo that I cooked sweet and sour style. I divided the kilo of bangus into two portions and, yesterday, I used one portion to make two dishes. The first is this soup. It is tinola in flavor although I used chayote and spinach leaves in lieu of the more traditional green papaya and chili leaves. And because the bangus was pressure-cooked, every bit of the fish was edible.
Tinolang Bangus (Gingered Milkfish Soup)
- Cut each bangus into three portions. There really is no need to scrape off the scales. And I do not recommend cutting off the heads as the head is the most flavorful part of the fish.
- Mince the garlic. Finely slice the shallots. Peel and thinly slice the ginger.
- Heat the cooking oil in the pressure cooker. Saute the garlic, shallots and ginger just until aromatic.
- Pour about six cups of water into the pressure cooker. Season with salt or patis and black pepper. Add the bangus pieces.
- Seal the pressure cooker. Keep the heat on high until the valve starts to turn. Turn the heat to low and let the bangus cook for about an hour and a half. Note that the cooking time may vary depending on the size of the fish. If the fish are large, even if they are cut into portions, they will take longer to cook to the point that the bones, fins and scales are soft.
- Note also that once the valve starts to turn, it is very important to keep the heat very, very low so that the water is barely simmering. This will prevent the bangus from moving too much inside the pressure cooker — this is essential so that the bangus pieces retain their shape. If the water is boiling like crazy inside and the bangus pieces are taking somersaults for an hour and a half, they’ll disintegrate before they’re done.
- Meanwhile, peel the chayote and cut into small cubes. Rinse the spinach leaves.
- After an hour and a half, turn the stove off. Leave for at least ten minutes to allow the pressure to dissipate then open the pressure cooker.
- Using a slotted spoon, scoop out the bangus and transfer to a soup tureen or serving bowl.
- Taste the broth and adjust the seasonings, if needed. Add the chayote cubes to the hot broth and simmer for about 15 minutes (no need to seal the pressure cooker; just cover with the lid). Add the spinach leaves and cook for another minute or two.
- Taste the broth one last time and adjust the seasonings, if needed.
- Pour the broth and vegetables into the tureen or bowl with the cooked bangus. Serve the tinolang bangus hot.