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[Recipe] Sinigang na ulo ng bangus sa batuan at kamatis (Milkfish head in batuan and tomatoes sour broth)

When my siblings and I were growing up, milkfish has a special and almost revered status in our family. My grandmother had fishponds almost exclusively dedicated to milkfish farming. Sometimes, we would go visit the farm during our summer vacation with our cousins and if it coincided with the (partial) harvest of the season (what we call as pabuhang), we would join in the activities. For me personally, what's magical about the experience is at that point when you let out the water from the fish pond and only a small portion of the pond remains deep enough, the milkfish starts jumping out of the water and sometimes if you are lucky you can actually catch one in mid-air! This also happens when brackish water is introduced in the fishpond (this time it is called pasulang) and the milkfish has a natural instinct of swimming against the current and they would crowd to the source of the incoming water in a frenzy. Interestingly this is the technique used when purchasing milkfish fingerlings, you swirl the water and see that the small fishes try to swim against the current. Those that do not exhibit this behavior is most likely juvenile sea bass (or bulgan) masquerading as milkfish and although I love sea bass, they are carnivorous and would gobble up the poor baby milkfish if you let them grow alongside them.

Almost all of my milkfish recipes are from treasured childhood memories. I remember that my siblings and I would compete with each other to get the best parts (usually the bangus belly and the head part for the eyes and the utok).

I have mentioned in a previous post that I now regularly make big batches (or as much as my small pressure cooker can handle that is) of sardines-style milkfish for my hassle-free breakfast (I'm just too lazy to cook in the morning). I don't even reheat it separately anymore. I place a couple of pieces over a heap of steaming freshly cooked rice and have a quick but yummy breakfast.

When cooking the milkfish in this manner, I used to include every part of the fish in the pressure cooker, but lately, I set aside the heads of the milkfish and make either tinolang bangus or sinigang na bangus instead. I really do not make a big distinction between the two dishes since in my mind, tinolang bangus just makes use of tomatoes for a very subtle souring agent (something along the lines of sinigang sa kamatis if you will) as opposed to the aggressively sour tamarind broth base.

Sinigang na ulo ng bangus sa batuan at kamatis

Aside from tomatoes, batuan is another subtle souring agent that I use quite often in tinolang bangus/sinigang. Growing up in an ilonggo family meant that batuan is always the souring agent of choice. It is used extensively in ilonggo cuisine and is used from sinigang, to kansi (the ilonggo version of the bulalo), and even in dinuguan. We actually have a very productive batuan tree in the backyard of our house in Iloilo. Whenever I go back home to Manila and batuan is in season, I would make sure to bring home a big bag of the fruit stuffed in my luggage. It keeps well in the freezer for several months. Some people like to make batuan puree before transporting them, but for me, freezing the fruit does the job nicely.

batuan fruit as a souring agent for sinigang

The following is a simple recipe for sinigang na ulo ng bangus sa batuan at kamatis:

4 or more pieces of bangus (milkfish) head
4 to 6 pieces of batuan
2 pieces of native tomatoes, cut into quarters
1 cup of kangkong leaves, washed
1 pc of banana chili pepper, whole
1 medium-sized onion, roughly chopped
1 teaspoon fish sauce (add more to taste if desired)
tamarind broth powder - sinigang sa sampalok broth mix (optional - if you want a more intense sour taste in the broth)

In a medium-sized pot, sautee the onions in a little bit of oil until caramelized. Add a cup of water and add in the milkfish heads, tomatoes, and batuan. Add more water to just barely submerge all of the ingredients. Bring to a gentle boil (covered). With a cooking spoon, mash the batuan fruit into the side of the pot to release the pulp and juices into the broth. Add the tamarind broth powder if you desire a more intense sourness and balance it out with the fish sauce. Add the green banana chili pepper and the kangkong leaves. Let it simmer a few minutes more with the lid covered. Serve piping hot with freshly cooked rice.


Anonymous said...

Since you ate a lot of very fresh bangus in Iloilo, don't you find Manila bangus bad-tasting?

JEP said...

Honestly, I can't tell if it is from Iloilo, from Dagupan, or any other bangus raising areas. But from what I know of typical harvesting practices is that the "maburak" taste in the stomach area might be due to the fact that the bangus is not alive when it was harvested. The freshly caught bangus is quickly placed in icy cold water which makes them expel whatever they have eaten. I have bought some bangus here in Metro Manila which is like that, unfortunately.