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[Howto] My favorite hito recipes, preparing and cooking crispy deep fried hito (catflish)

Hito (Pantat in Cebuano and Hiligaynon languages), scientific name Clarias batrachus, is a type of freshwater catfish that is very ubiquitous in the Philippines and the rest of Southeast Asia. Also sometimes known as the walking catfish, they can actually get out of the water and "walk" (more like wriggle) out across muddy flats in search of food. They are oftentimes sold live in large glass tanks in the local markets.

Off the top of my head, I can think of at least 3 delicious ways of preparing this fish. Probably the simplest is just to lightly dredge and deep fry until crispy (which is the main topic of this post). I have learned this from my brother when he used to cook this at home. I especially like eating the crispy tail when prepared this way.

Another favorite way of preparation is to simmer it in coconut milk (guinataang hito) with ginger, chilies, and other spices. This is somewhat similar to the dish Adobadong Alimusan (alimusan is wild caught saltwater catfish) except that the adobado flavor profile is more like adobo (using soy sauce and vinegar) with coconut milk and achuete (annatto). The Filipino dish guinataang hito is also closely related to its much spicier cousin, catfish coconut curry or kari ikan keli (in Malaysian cuisine).

By far one of my favorite preparation (I haven't had the chance to try and cook this though) is insasal na pantat which is a way of grilling marinated catfish (the marinade has annatto in it which lends a distinct reddish color) in a bamboo skewer in indirect heat using charcoal. I am not certain how they do it but as far as I can tell the catfish are not directly on top of the glowing embers but is more off to the sides angled a bit towards the charcoal. This method of cooking gives it a smoky taste and almost like a jerky dryness. It is quite popular in Zarraga in Iloilo Province in the Philippines and in fact, they have a festival called Pantat Festival.

Crispy deep-fried hito (catfish)

Hito is oftentimes bought live. The fishmonger will kill and clean the fish but you will still need to do a bit of preparation before you can cook it. Rub a generous amount of salt all over the fish to remove the sliminess of the skin. Rinse thoroughly and pat dry. 

Cooking Directions:
Prepare deep fryer (setting the oil temperature for 190 degrees Celsius). I personally use a small pot large enough to accommodate the fish rolled up as shown in the photo with just enough oil to submerge the fish halfway (cook one at a time). Lightly dredge the fish in a mixture of cornstarch, salt, and freshly ground black pepper. Deep fry for about 11 to 15 minutes flipping halfway through. Once done, place the freshly fried fish on paper towels to absorb the excess oil. Prepare a dipping sauce of sliced fresh tomatoes, chopped red onions, drizzled with salty soy sauce, and a little bit of red cane vinegar.

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