Of all the Filipino dishes that regularly grace the dinner table, Paksiw na Isda ranks high among the top favorites, along with Adobo and Sinigang. Especially if you add slices of ampalaya (bittergourd) into the dish to make it a complete meal when taken with freshly cooked rice.
Oftentimes, however, what we use for Paksiw na Isda is either bangus (milkfish, with scales still on) or galunggong (round scad). I like both, except that I would have wanted the bangus to be sans scales so that the scales do not “pollute” the sauce when you remove them with your spoon and fork and the galunggong leaves a “sandy residue” on the sauce. I am particular about the sauce because I like to splash it on my rice when I eat paksiw.
Recently, my sister Swanie experimented with other fish varieties for paksiw and used Dilat (I assume, a close relative of Bisugo, because they look and taste very similar, except that the Dilat has bigger eyes) when she found a really fresh batch when she went to the talipapa near her place in Mandaluyong. It turned out to be really good. The scales can be removed in big strips, and there is no sandy residue to be found in the sauce.
Paksiw na Isdang Dilat
1/2 kg. Dilat fish*
salt to taste
1 segment ginger (2 inches long), peeled and julienned
4 cloves garlic, peeled and roughly chopped
1 pc. onion, roughly chopped
1-2 pcs. siling haba (finger chili)
1-1/2 cups white vinegar
1 cup water, or to taste
salt and peppercorns to taste
1. Wash the Dilat fish (*also known as Mulagat and is a close ‘relative’ of Bisugo). Make sure the intestines have been totally removed and thoroughly cleaned.
2. Lay fish in a row in a wok. Season with salt.
3. Sprinkle with ginger.
4. Add roughly chopped garlic.
5. Add chopped onion.
6. Top with siling haba.
7. Pour in white vinegar. Add water, the amount of which depends on how sour you want your paksiw to be. Add salt and peppercorns to taste.
8. Bring to a boil, then lower heat and simmer until cooked through, about 20 minutes.