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!