Yield: 4 servings. Prep: 60 min. Cooking: 60 min.
- 1 2-2 1/2 lb whole bony fish (sea bass, striped mullet, large mackerel, or red snapper)
- Juice of 1 lemon
- 1 1/2 Tbs vegetable oil
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- 1 small onion, finely chopped
- 1 small (2-3 oz) chorizo or Portuguese or Italian sweet sausage, casing removed
- 2 thin slices of Canadian bacon, the rind and fat trimmed and meat sliced into julienne strips
- 2 heaping Tbs of golden raisins, finely chopped
- 1/2 sweet red pepper, seeds and core removed, and flesh diced
- 1/2 sweet pickle, drained and diced, or 2 Tsp of sweet pickle relish
- 1 Tsp salt
- 1/2 Tsp black pepper
1 1/2 Tbs all-purpose flour
- 2 Tbs crumbled curd cheese (such as feta)
- 1/4 cup canned plain tomato puree
- 1 hard-cooked egg, peeled and coarsely chopped
- 1 Tsp vegetable oil
- 1 egg yolk
- 1 Tbs evaporated milk
- 1 bunch watercress, stems removed, leaves washed and drained
- 1 lemon, cut into 4 wedges
1. Remove small portion of flesh around the gills of the fish. With your hands, knead the rock of the fish with some pressure and beat the body area around the lateral line gently with the heel of a knife to help loosen the flesh from the skin. Without breaking the skin, carefully snap the vertebrae just in front of the tail fin and again around the gills (at the nape). Carefully and slowly enter a thin spatula into either side of the gill excisions along the lateral line to loosen the flesh from the skin. (Try not to puncture the skin because, in some cultures, this is a prized delicacy.) With a spoon, draw out as much flesh between the gills and the backbone as possible. With careful finger pressure and manipulation, work the vertebrae so as to continue to loosen it from the flesh. Using a fork or the spatula, remove any remaining flesh and organs and pull out all of the backbone and ancillary skeleton through the gill openings. Pick out and discard all the bones and organs from the retrieved flesh.
2. Put the flesh into a small bowl, flake it with a fork, removing any additional small bones that appear, and blend thoroughly with the lemon juice. Set aside.
3. Heat the 1/2 tablespoon of oil in a wok or large frying pan over medium heat and begin to sauté the onion. When it becomes limp, add the garlic an continue frying and stirring until the garlic begins to darken.
4. Add the sausage meat, Canadian bacon, raisins, red pepper, celery, pickle, reserved, flaked fish (with its liquid), salt, pepper, and flour. Stir-fry for several minutes to thoroughly mix and just heat through the combination.
5. Preheat the oven to 325ºF. Remove the wok from the heat and stir in the cheese, tomato purée, and hard-cooked egg.
6. When the stuffing cools sufficiently, place it into the body of the fish with your fingers, aided by a small rubber spatula. Again, be careful not to puncture the skin. When you have inserted most or all of the stuffing, attempt to reshape the fish to its original conformation. (If you find you have extra stuffing, wrap it in a piece of aluminum foil, bake, and serve alongside the whole stuffed fish.)
7. Cut a piece of aluminum foil so it will fit around the entire stuffed fish, leaving extra foil to crimp and seal. Wipe the foil with the teaspoon of oil and wrap the fish in the foil, crimping and folding as necessary to seal the package.
8. Place the package in the oven and bake for around 40 minutes.
9. While the fish is baking, mix the egg yolk and evaporated milk in a small mixing bowl. Stir thoroughly and set aside. Next, make a bed of the watercress on a suitable-sized platter.
10. When the fish is baked, remove it from the oven. Carefully open the foil to expose the entire skin and, using a pastry brush, paint it with the egg yolk and milk mixture. Raise the oven temperature to 350ºF.
11. Replace the fish, in its foil on the baking sheet, in the oven and let it bake for about 5 minutes, or until the exposed surface is a rich golden brown.
12. When completed, carefully transfer (probably with two spatulas) the fish to the watercress-lined serving dish. Garnish this presentation with the lemon wedges and serve at once.
Fresh or frozen green peas may be added to the stuffing with the sausage meat in step 4, but omit the pickles called for later on. Also, sliced, fresh tomatoes may be substituted for the tomato purée (step 5) and added along with the pickle in step 4. (If you choose to omit the purée, you should add a whole egg in step 4.)
Plain rice is the traditional accompaniment, but the fish should be the centerpiece.
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