Just in time for this blog post for Sinanglay na Pompano, a pasalubong (gift from travel) arrived from journalist and my good friend, Paola Paska. From Manila, she packed in her suitcase a huge copy of “Philippine Food, Cooking and Dining Dictionary” by Edgie Polistico. What a marvelous collection of possibly all the Filipino culinary and cooking terms on this earth. And this is where I got a clear definition of the word “sinanglay” (say “see-nang-lay’).
I had been cooking this dish for a while, without knowing what its real name was. Yes, this happens. It’s because I know this dish from memory. My mother cooked a lot of fish and seafood dishes for my dad. More than anything, my dad enjoyed a good fish entrée nearly every day. Dad never failed to extol the virtues of eating fish and seafood regularly. So, there were a multitude of ways my mom cooked different types of fish that came our way in Tarlac, my childhood home.
In this food dictionary, author Edgie Polistico defines ‘sinanglay’ “as a Bicolano dish (from the Bicol region) and is a stuffed fish with vegetables then wrapped in pichay leaves and coconut cream.”
And this was exactly what I have been doing all along. After quickly chopping everything that goes into the fish, I scooped up the onions, scallions, ginger, and tomatoes then filled up the fish cavity. Then I wrapped large bok choy leaves around the plump pompano. And while the broth simmered slowly, I lowered the fish into the pan to cook. Towards the end, I poured the rich, coconut cream. I watched as the milky white broth bubbled and looked so pure and beautiful next to the meaty pompano.
The combined flavors of onions with ginger blended well with the sweet coconut cream and the simmering aroma made our taste buds crave longingly for this fish meal. And because it’s fish, the entire dish cooked fast. In minutes, the boiled rice was cooked, the fish was done and dinner was ready.
It was my dad’s birthday this week. We miss him dearly. If he were around I would have cooked this wholesome fish meal for him. He would have liked that. And in the process I would have told him how much I learned from this amazing food dictionary – with food terms alphabetized, and at the end chapters, culinary vocabulary are arranged by taste, smell, sizes, shapes and font, count and numbers and so much more helpful translations every fan of Filipino cuisine will relish.
Sinanglay na Pompano- Fish Wrapped in Bok Choy
- 1 whole (2.5 pounds) fresh pompano, cleaned, gutted, scales removed ; ;or use fillets
- 2 Tablespoons lemon or calamansi juice
- 4 cloves garlic minced, divided for stuffing and saute
- 1 1/2 whole pieces onions chopped, divided for stuffing and saute
- 1 knob fresh ginger peeled, sliced into 1/2-inch thin sticks, divided for stuffing and saute; about 1 Tablespoon
- 2 whole large tomatoes chopped, divided for stuffing and saute
- 3 stalks scallions whites only, divided for stuffing and saute
- 2 Tablespoons vegetable oil
- 1 Tablespoon patis fish sauce
- 1 1/2 cups organic vegetable broth
- 1 to 2 pieces siling labuyo bird's eye chilies
- 4 to 6 large Bok Choy leaves (pechay or Chinese cabbage) to wrap fish
- 1 can (13.66 fl oz) coconut cream
- 1 1/2 teaspoons salt divided, use half to marinate fish, rest to season broth
- 1 1/2 teaspoons ground black pepper divided, use half to marinate fish, rest to season broth freshly ground black pepper
- for serving: steamed rice
- When purchasing a whole fish, have the fish monger clean the entire thing by removing the scales, gut and partially cutting the tail. When you get home from the market, wash the fish thoroughly.
- Score the fish in 2 to 3 slits diagonally on both sides of the fish. Season the fish with calamansi (Filipino lime), salt and black pepper. Refrigerate and set aside to marinate for 30 minutes. Do not marinate longer than this.
- In a medium-sized bowl, combine the stuffing: onions, scallions, ginger and tomatoes. Mix well. Stuff the fish with this filling. Set aside.
- In a large, deep skillet or a wok, over medium high heat, add the vegetable oil. Saute the garlic, onions, tomatoes, and patis. After 1 to 2 minutes when this has softened, add the vegetable broth and siling labuyo.
- Slowly add the stuffed fish wrapped in bok choy leaves. Ladle the liquid over the wrapped fish. The liquid should be able to nearly cover the entire fish. Cover and simmer slowly.
- After about 20 minutes, uncover the skillet and add the coconut cream. Blend well so the coconut cream incorporates well in the entire liquid. Cover again and continue cooking over a low simmer for 10 to 12 more minutes till fish and vegetables are cooked. Heat should be on simmer because if it's too high the coconut cream will curdle. Season with salt and black pepper. Serve warm with rice.
- Cook’s Comments: You can use red snapper or tilapia if preferred. I have cooked Sinanglay with these types of fish.
- Disclosure: The book “Philippine Food, Cooking, & Dining Dictionary” by Edgie Polistico (Anvil Publishing) was a gift from friends. I was not paid to mention or review this book, but I gladly recommend it as a resource for food writers, chefs, culinary enthusiasts and fans of Filipino cuisine, culture and heritage. The food dictionary book is available on Amazon.com and on AnvilPublishing.com. An Amazon affiliate link above this recipe is available for the food dictionary.
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