This is really corny, so bear with me for a moment: sometimes the most joyful part of cooking is being pushed out of your comfort zone. On most nights, I stick to the things I know will taste good and I know I can produce... a roasted chicken, pasta, tacos, or a picnic spread of cheeses and meats. So it's exciting for me to have guests, especially when I am challenged in new ways by their tastes or needs. Less often does it have to do with trying new techniques, but instead usually means I'm thinking outside of my arsenal recipe-wise. Which is why I ended up cooking bangus sisig for Iris and Blase. They weren't eating meat at the time and Iris, the good friend that she is said, "COOK SOME FILIPINO FOOD FOR YOUR BLOG." (Probably over gchat, and I am probably inventing the all caps part.)
Traditional sisig is probably my favorite Filipino dish I've yet to taste. It's greasy pork, I believe from the head of the pig, usually combined with liver, chilies, onions, lots of garlic, and marinated in sour vinegar and lime juice. It comes out sizzling, often with an egg, recently cracked and bubbling in the center. It will forever remind me of sitting on a beach in Bohol, snacking on it slowly, sipping a beer and listening to Iris's dad tell stories. It went a little something like this:
Anyway, this recipe, which I adapted from the awesome Burnt Lumpia blog, uses bangus (fish) instead of pork and really hit the spot. I only wish that there had been more to go around! I could have easily doubled-- no, tripled the recipe for the four of us. It was that tasty.
Moral of the story is don't be afraid of the Asian ingredients. Many of them aren't too much of a challenge to find (especially not in New York), and some substitutions aren't the end of the world. That said, make sure you try some authentic sisig in the near future. It's one of those foods that I imagine I'll crave as a pregnant lady; such a specific, unique, and satisfying taste!
Bangus Sisig (adapted from Burnt Lumpia)
Serves 2-4 as an appetizer
1/2 cup white cane vinegar (Sukang Maasim) ideally; I substituted with Apple Cider Vinegar 1/4 cup soy sauce
6 garlic cloves, smashed and peeled
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 boneless and butterflied milkfish or butterfish
4 tablespoons oil
2 shallots, finely chopped
4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1-3 red chilis (thai chilis are great)
Limes for spritzing. Ideally, you would use kalamansi limes, found all over the Philippines. I substituted with a standard Mexican lime.
Combine the vinegar, soy, garlic, and pepper in a shallow dish. Place the fish, flesh side down, into the marinade. Spoon some of the marinade over the skin side as well. Cover dish with plastic wrap, place in refrigerator, and allow to marinate for 6 to 8 hours and turning the fish over during the last hour.
Place the fish, flesh side down, on a hot pre-heated and well-greased grill and cook for 3 to 5 minutes. Brush the skin side of the fish with about 2 tablespoons canola oil, then flip fish over and cook for another 3-5 minutes. Remove from grill and allow to cool.
When the grilled fish is cool enough to handle, break the fish up into small pieces, including the belly blubber and the skin. Discard the head and tail. Place the flaked fish into a medium bowl and set aside.
Heat a small cast iron skillet over high heat. Add 1 tablespoon of oil to the hot skillet, then quickly add the shallots, garlic, and chilies to the skillet. Saute the vegetables until shallots begin to soften, and the garlic just begins to brown, about 1 minute.
Add the flaked fish to the skillet and toss to combine with the vegetables. Form a well in the middle of the skillet, then add 1 tablespoon of oil. Crack the eggs into the well, then remove the skillet from the heat. The egg will continue to cook off the heat.
Squeeze some fresh lime juice over the fish, and serve immediately with a side of rice.