Relleno in Spanish food generally means stuffing, usually a meat mixture that’s been breaded and then fried. It’s applied in Filipino food using the same concept but in this recipe, the meat of my country’s national fish, milkfish or bangus, is removed from the cavity, tossed and stir-fried with other ingredients, stuffed back in the fish and then sealed before roasting to a golden brown color.
I grew up eating this stuffed fish at family birthday parties. The kids always enjoyed the fried red hot dogs and marshmallows in skewers while the adults ate the “real” food like rellenong bangus. Milkfish is extremely bony and one needs a lot of patience to remove the very fine threads of bones but I’ve always thought the reward was much greater than the work. I gently pounded the fish using the smooth end of a tenderizer mallet to loosen the meat from its skin and then I sliced off the meat from its skin using a very sharp boning knife. A little maneuvering near the tail helped break off the larger bone in the middle. I knew that knife had its purpose!
The entire process took 45 minutes–not bad for an amateur. I left the sewing of the fish shut to my mother who is lighter handed with a giant needle and butcher’s twine than I am. The result, a cleanly sutured stuffed milkfish.
1 milkfish, thawed if previously frozen, scaled, cleaned, sliced open along the stomach
3 tbsps ground pork
1 small carrot, finely chopped
a handful of raisins
1/4 cup bread crumbs
1 stalk scallion, finely chopped
3 stalks of parsley, finely chopped
1 clove of garlic, minced
oil, salt, pepper
1. Using the smooth end of a meat tenderizer mallet, gently pound the milkfish on a chopping block. Be careful not to pierce the skin. With a sharp boning knife, begin to separate the meat from the fish’s skin. Remove fish bones as you see them.
2. In a large skillet, heat some oil. Sauté garlic and scallions until scallions are soft. Add ground pork and fry. Add carrots and parsley and continue to toss until the ground pork is brown.
3. Add the fish meat with the raisins and toss to continue cooking. Mix in the bread crumbs. Season with salt and pepper. Remove to a bowl and let cool to room temperature.
4. Stuff the milkfish by spreading the meat and fish mixture evenly inside the fish cavity. Hold the seams together and sew close using butcher’s twine and needle. Brush the outside of the fish with some oil and put on a roasting pan.
5. Roast one side of the fish for about 10 minutes. Carefully turn the fish and roast the other side for another 7. Remove from the oven and let the fish slightly cool before slicing to reveal the stuffing inside.