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[Recipe] Sardinas na Bangus (Sardines style Milkfish)

It is traditional in most Catholic Filipino households to refrain from eating meat dishes during the holy week. Although it is seen by some as sort of sacrifice of abstaining from the more expensive meat dishes, I have to point out that going for seafood dinners isn't exactly frugal either depending on where you are. For me, I see it as an opportunity to explore recipes I can do with fresh fish available at the nearby talipapa since most of the groceries and shopping establishments are closed during Maundy Thursday and Good Friday. This is just one of the fish recipes that I have enjoyed during the Lenten season.

Sardinas na Bangus in corn oil and tomato sauce
One of the advantages of having a pressure cooker at home is that you can make sardines-in-a-can style fish just the way you like it. My mom used to cook pressure cooked freshwater eel and milkfish this way and it is very delicious. One interesting thing about pressure cooking is that the flesh of the fish remains firm but the bones become so tender (one of the primary complaints about cooking with milkfish is that it has too many fine bones) that you can eat everything bones and all. I usually don't include the heads (only because I prefer to cook bangus head Sinigang) but you can if you want.

There are a lot of possible variations to this dish that you can make. You may opt to make it a little bit spicier, add favorite ingredients like tausi (fermented salted black soybeans), include olives and capers, cook it in tomato sauce, or even cook it "Spanish style" in olive oil and chilies. This particular recipe uses corn oil and tomato sauce with just a hint of heat from local chilies. This is the most common way I prepare the dish but you can go ahead and experiment. I would suggest having a rack inside the pressure cooker so that the fish is not directly touching the bottom of the pan (I have a shallow stainless steel perforated rack about a centimeter high). A further note if you are going to use tomato sauce or paste: these tend to burn up at the bottom of the pan for long cooking so I usually just add these after pressure cooking (since you won't be able to stir the pot at all to prevent them from sticking in the bottom).

Bangus sardines keep well in the refrigerator so you can make a big batch

I cook a fairly sizable batch each time (limited on the capacity of my small pressure cooker) and it keeps well in the freezer (separated in easy to reheat portions).

4 pieces small to medium sized milkfish, cleaned with scales removed, cut into 4 to 5 pieces
1/2 cup corn oil
350 ml tomato sauce
2 pieces whole dill pickles sliced thinly
1/4 cup sliced green olives
2 medium-sized tomatoes cut into quarters
1 medium-sized carrot, peeled and sliced thinly
1 medium-sized bell pepper sliced into strips
1 medium-sized onion, cut into quarters
4 pieces of bay leaves
1/2 Tablespoon whole black peppercorns
1/2 cup salt
1/2 cup vinegar
1/4 cup salty soy sauce
1/2 Tablespoon smoked paprika 
2 teaspoons ground dry oregano
5 to 8 pieces whole local chilies - siling labuyo (capsicum frutescenes) or alternatively bird's eye chilies/chili padi if you prefer a bit more heat
3 Tablespoons coconut sugar/brown sugar


The first step is to brine the fish pieces. Prepare a brining solution by mixing 1/2 cups salt and 2 cups water. In a small bowl, place the fish pieces at the bottom and pour the brining solution over the fish. Add sufficient water to submerge all of the fish pieces in the brining solution. Cover the bowl and chill in the refrigerator for about half an hour. Brining the fish helps firm it up so that they retain their shape in the pressure cooker. Drain.

Place the rack at the bottom of the pressure cooker and arrange the brined milkfish pieces first. Layer the sliced carrots, tomatoes, bay leaves, onions, bell peppers, whole black peppercorns, olives, your preferred chilies, and dill pickles on top of the fish. Sprinkle the smoked paprika and dried oregano on top. Add the corn oil, soy sauce, vinegar and enough water to cover the fish and other ingredients.

Pressure cook for 75 to 90 minutes (I use the upper limit since I prefer the middle spine to soften) with just enough heat on the stove to keep the weight of the pressure cooker dancing from the excess steam). Once finished pressure cooking, pour in the tomato sauce and let it simmer in low to medium heat and let it reduce further for 15 minutes. Add coconut sugar to cut off the acidity of the tomato sauce - use more if desired. Add salt to taste.

Bangus Sardines in corn oil and tomato sauce
Update 22 Feb 2019: See the video at

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