We cancelled our trip to the Philippines last month, so I resorted to cooking Rellenong Bangus- Filipino Stuffed Milkfish here in my American kitchen. You see, each time we go back to my home town, in the house where I grew up, I ask my sister to cook Rellenong Bangus, the way mom did.
Rellenong Bangus, one of the most classic Philippine fish dishes is all about good, healthy comfort food. I can still picture my mom making relleno as she called it. Bent over the kitchen counter, mom patiently sliced the fish skin, scooped out the fish meat, and sautéed everything in garlic, onions and tomatoes. Then, she carefully filled the fish cavity with the cooked bangus meat and laboriously sewed up the fish.
Now that I make the stuffed milkfish for my family, I realize how much love and care mom put into making this dish for us. I admit, it is labor-intensive and takes a few hours. But most of us are on lockdown at home, so I had time.
Prepping this stuffed fish took my mind off the grim news on TV and social media. Until this global pandemic is under control, we have to accept our lives are completely altered. But the time spent in isolation gave me a better perspective. We must value only the important things right now: Good health, life and family. Let’s seize the time we have, cooking for those we love. A dish at a time. One recipe a day. That is the greatest comfort of all.
Rellenong Bangus- Stuffed Milkfish
- Large skillet: 12 to 14 inches in diameter
- 3 to 4 pounds whole large bangus (milkfish) or substitute with sea bass, tilefish or weak tile; cleaned and washed
- 2 teaspoons salt divided, use 1 teaspoon for fish skin, rest for saute of fish meat.
- 2 teaspoons ground black pepper divided, use 1 teaspoon for fish skin, rest for saute
- 1/2 cup vegetable oil Divided, use 2 Tablespoons to saute fish meat; rest to pan fry whole fish
- 2 cloves garlic peeled, minced
- 1 whole onion chopped
- 1 cup chopped cubed tomatoes
- 2 Tablespoons calamansi or lemon juice Divided, use 1 Tablespoon for fish skin, rest for saute
- 1 Tablespoon patis (fish sauce)
- 1/2 cup frozen green peas
- 1/2 cup raisins
- 1 whole egg beaten
For the fish:
- 2 feet butcher's twine for tying fish
- Steamed rice
To prepare the Bangus - Milkfish
- Wash the fish thoroughly after coming home from the market.Slice open the back of the fish, towards the sides. Using a meat mallet, or the back of a large knife, pound the outer side of the fish, so that the meat is easier to take out.Hold the open cavity and using a spoon, scoop out the meat of the fish, removing the spine and bones. Leave the head and outer skin intact. Wash the skin and head. Marinate with calamansi juice, salt and black pepper. Set aside.In a bowl, flake the fish, removing any remaining bones. Season the fish meat with salt and pepper.
To cook the Bangus filling:
- In a large skillet, over medium-high heat, add the oil. When oil is hot enough in 2 minutes, saute the garlic, onions and tomatoes. Stir around for 2 minutes till tomatoes are soft.Add the flaked fish. Pour the calamansi or lemon juice and the patis (fish sauce). Add the green peas and raisins. Blend ingredients in the skillet. Continue cooking for 5 minutes more till the fish meat is completely cooked. Quickly add the beaten egg into the cooked fish meat. Stir the mixture fast so the egg gets absorbed right away. Set the fish mixture aside for 5 minutes to cool.
To fill the Bangus:
- Place the skin and head of the bangus on a board or tray. Open the slit. Using a spoon, fill the empty cavity with the cooked fish meat. Fill the entire fish, making sure no stuffing comes out of the sides. Tie the fish with butcher's twine so the stuffing stays in place while pan-frying.Refrigerate the uncooked fish for 1 hour before pan frying.
To cook the Rellenong Bangus:
- In a large skillet, over medium-high heat, pour the remaining vegetable oil. When oil is hot enough in 2 to 3 minutes, place the entire stuffed bangus inside the skillet. Use a splatter guard if the oil jumps out of the pan and gets uncomfortable for you.Pan fry each side of the bangus for 5 to 6 minutes till brown. When serving, untie and discard the butcher's twine. Place the fish on a serving platter. Slice in 3 to 4 serving parts. Serve warm with rice.
- Most fish mongers at the market offer to clean the fish of its intestines, scales and tails (and sometimes the head). This is a free service. Take advantage of the free offer. I always do.Here in the United States, on the east coast, I buy my bangus (milkfish) from the Asian grocery, where the fish mongers are familiar with Filipino cooking. If bangus is not available, you can substitute with sea bass, tilefish or weak tile. In the Philippines, bangus is readily sold in wet markets or groceries.
- Bangus or milkfish is a white fish variety commonly found in the Philippines. Fishery experts in the Philippines regard the bangus as the backbone of the country's aquaculture. Commercial production of fish farming like bangus goes back to a century ago. The Philippines is one of the top producers of this fish variety in the world and exports to the USA, the UK, Canada and Japan. Here in America, I buy bangus at the Asian market. The bangus has a white meaty flesh that tastes sweet when cooked.
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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