Thoughts of self-care came about as I was cooking this Filipino classic Pinangat na Isda, a fish stew cooked in souring condiments like tomatoes. During lockdown, we tend to indulge and laze around more than usual. The temptation to eat junk food is great but health experts would not agree it’s good for us.
So, when I was preparing to cook this butter fish, or sapsap, as it’s known to Filipinos, I was reminded of how my father always liked to have fish for meals nearly every day, for the health benefits.
Meanwhile, here in my American kitchen, I had these fish available and a lot of tomatoes in the vegetable bin. So, cooking it the pangat way was logical and the easiest meal to prepare.
Pinangat means cooking fish or seafood with ingredients to achieve a sour, savory flavor. The more souring agents the better to make you cringe at first bite. But that’s a good thing in Filipino dishes.
This is the kind of meal you can make ahead and the tart flavors are even sharper hours after. I simply layered the tomatoes, the fish and vegetables in a stockpot and poured the broth. After seasoning, the stew cooked in minutes on the stove. I poured the hot, steaming clear broth on a mound of rice, nestled next to the Pinangat na Isda. The salty aromas reminded me of dishes my mother cooked, and that gave me solace. For a few, precious moments, life during the pandemic seemed fine and I knew we’d be okay. Be safe, friends!
Filipino Pinangat na Isda - Fish Stew in Tomatoes
- Stockpot : 4 to 6 quarts
- 1 pound fresh butter fish (sapsap) about 2 to 3 pieces; or use fillets of other types of fish like tilapia, snapper.
- 1 whole lemon to marinate fish
- 1 teaspoon salt to marinate fish
- 1 teaspoon ground black pepper to marinate fish
- 4 to 5 whole tomatoes sliced
- 1 whole onion sliced
- 2 cloves garlic peeled, minced
- 1 knob (1-inch piece) fresh ginger peeled, sliced into thin strips
- 1 Tablespoon patis (fish sauce)
- 1 ½ cups vegetable broth
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon ground black pepper
- 1 bunch bok choy (Chinese cabbage) ends trimmed; sliced coarsely
Prepare the fish:
- If using a whole fish, have the fish monger clean it up for you at the market. They offer a free service to remove the scales, intestines, fins and tail. All you need to do is ask.To prepare the fish, wash the whole fish in cold, running water to remove any trace of blood.Prepare the cleaned fish by scoring the outer skin with 1 to 2 slits diagonally. Marinate the fish inside the cavity and outside with lemon juice and 1 teaspoon of salt, + 1 teaspoon of ground black pepper. Refrigerate while marinating for 15 minutes. (Note: Do not marinate longer than this time or the fish will cook in the lemon juice).If using fish fillet: Wash fish in cold water. Marinate the fillets in lemon juice and a teaspoon each of salt and black pepper, for 15 minutes. Set aside in the refrigerator.
To cook the Pinangat na Isda
- In a deep stockpot, layer half the amount of the sliced tomatoes at the bottom.Place the fish over the tomato layer.Add another layer of tomatoes, the onions, garlic and ginger.Pour the patis (fish sauce) and the broth over the ingredients. The liquid should be enough to cover the fish and tomatoes. Add half a cup of water if needed.Season with salt and black pepper.Add the bok choy over the layered fish and tomatoes.Cover and cook over medium high heat for 15 minutes, till the fish is thoroughly cooked and tomatoes are soft.Serve warm with rice.
- I used whole butter fish, also known as sapsap to Filipinos. You can substitute fish fillets. Use white fish for this recipe, like tilapia, snapper or what is available. You can also substitute regular cabbage if preferred.
Notes on Nutrition: The nutrition information provided is an estimate and will vary based on cooking methods and specific brands of ingredients used.
Did you like this recipe?I have more Filipino Instant Pot recipes in my newest cookbook Instant Filipino Recipes: My Mother’s Traditional Philippine Cooking in A Multicooker Pot by Elizabeth Ann Besa-Quirino. I also have more classic recipes inspired by my mother’s cooking in my popular cookbook: My Mother’s Philippine Recipes. If you’re learning how to cook Filipino food or a fan of Philippine cuisine, buy my cookbooks and books on Amazon.com sold worldwide in paperback and Kindle format.
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