Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Tilapia Two Ways

I've been threatening to learn to cook Filipino food for some time but have never gotten around to it. How does one start such an endeavor? What should be the first lesson? Adobo, giniling, balbacua? Me, I wanted to start with a meat as far from hamburger as possible: A fish! I also wanted to start at the local Filipino store, where Filipinos might possibly shop for food. Makes sense, right? Anyway, Mrs. DMG wanted some halo-halo yesterday so we all loaded up and headed for the Filipino store. She rounded up ginger, carrots, garlic, and an onion--I would need these things--and I dug through the many freezers looking for my first victim. I emerged with the most glorious Taiwanese tilapia you've ever seen! We settled up and headed home, excited to finally be embarking on a very smelly journey.

The fish took a day to thaw in the refrigerator and today we started. As always happens when I first try something new, I believed I was more knowledgeable than the person teaching me. In introducing the process, the point Mrs. DMG emphasized the most is that the oil must be very hot in order to keep the fish from sticking to the pan. I believe her words were, "It is extremely critical that the oil be very hot!" So I heated the oil to what I understood to be very hot and I threw in some ginger which supposedly helps to keep the fishy smell down. As the garlic was cooking, I exclaimed several times, "The oil is very hot!" "Not yet," she kept saying. Impatient to start and genuinely worried that the oil was too hot, I finally insisted that we must put the fish in. "It will stick, but go ahead," she said, so I did.

Knowing my inability to multi-task, I normally I would have cut the vegetables beforehand. Tonight, though, I got a bit of a late start so I julienned carrots and ginger while the oils from the skin of the tilapia bonded to the anodized surface of the aluminum cooking pan. Having worked in machine shops my whole life, and having an intuitive grasp of Newtonian physics, I was able to recognize the hazards involved with scraping a fish from the bottom of a pan filled with an inch of moderately hot oil. I knew what would happen if the fish broke loose suddenly while I was pulling one way on the pan and pushing the other way with a spatula. In true Filipino style, though, I ignored the danger and continued to hack away barefooted at the stubborn fish, holding the whole operation as far away from me as I could. With the fish flipped, and the oil still too cold meaning the other side would stick again, I got my vegetables going in another pan.

Mrs. DMG had the good idea to leave the tail part as is and put the head part in with the vegetables, which is what I did. It wasn't pretty to look at but the skin I scraped off the pan was crispy and delicious. The flesh stayed fairly entact, remarkably, and was also very tasty. Not a bad first attempt, I think!

f/2.8; 1/60 sec; ISO-100; flash.


Anonymous said...

Non-quantitative HOT covers a lot of ground. But it looks like everything came out quite tasty anyway ..... Congratulations! Let us know when you figure out the secret proper-heat-trick.
Quack, Quack!

Martijn said...

I suffer from TMS again: temporary muteness syndrome. Your post was most joyful from the beginning to the end. Filipine cooking, even though I have never eaten it, has now my warm interest. I will try to look for a recipe on the web somewhere (unless you can post a link or something). I don't think we have a Filipino store nearby (perhaps in Amsterdam) but I'm sure I can find most things right here, except for a Mrs. to point out the right oil temperature, somewhere between super hot and ignition point. Oh, wait a minute, the boy friend of a (girl) friend of mine is (half?) Filipino, perhaps he knows if there is a Filipino Store around... (You see: utterly hopeless, my comments. My only excuse is that I am sick.)

Anonymous said...

Hi, Rod! How's things? Hope all is well.

I think I figured out the trick while conducting the post-mortem of my stuck fish debacle. It's like heat treating. You bring steel down to the hardness you want, not up to it. Next time I'm going to heat the oil to it's smoke point and then reduce the heat till the smoking mostly stops. I figure that's the functional temperature limit of vegetable oil, at least for cooking food and possibly for heat treating, too. I'll let you know how it goes but it may be a while. Next week's lesson is giniling.



Anonymous said...

Hi, Martijn!

Any asian store would do, I would think. We have scads of them here, and Mexican/Salvadoran markets. Springdale is a melting pot, with tilapia skin hopelessly stuck to the bottom. You rock!


Anonymous said...

That makes sense .... heat to smokin', then drop it down a bit. I bet that explains some of the "intentional" fire-in-the-pot recipes ..... oops, uh, uh .... I meant to do that!
I've had pretty good luck with "cool from smokin' " but now that I have it in writing from a relative of cooks, I know the technique to be a valid culinary methodology. I thought I was just lucky not to burn to house down. Thanks for the desciption.
Quack, Quack!

red dirt girl said...

Yum !!


Hi Dave!