] It’s always been hard for me to cook creative, unique seafood dishes for Fridays of Lent so I cooked this – Adobong Hito sa Gata – Catfish in Coconut. My sons and husband are carnivores. My sons, though, now grown up, have shifted food preferences and go for a balance of vegetables, seafood and meat.
I was inspired to cook Adobong Hito sa Gata when I went through the “Slow Food Adobo” Cookbook, authored by my cousin Lyn Besa Gamboa and her friend Mara Pardo de Tavera. Adobo is traditionally a stew of garlic, vinegar and soy sauce. One can use chicken, pork, vegetables or seafood as the main ingredient.
An adobo stew of garlic and vinegar cooked in coconut milk is fragrant and almost hypnotic when the aromas float around. For this recipe, I cooked the fish twice. First it was pan-fried and then added to the stew. I had to pan fry the fish fillet first or it would have crumbled in the creamy broth.
I cooked with catfish nuggets from my neighborhood supermarket. To the unfamiliar, catfish was listed by fishwatch.gov as one of the top sea foods consumed in America. Here in the States, sources for catfish are found in Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana and Mississippi. I always ask where my seafood comes from before I buy it. I also try to find out if they were farm-raised in the USA.
In Southeast Asian countries, the Asian catfish thrives as an industry. We call catfish “hito” (say ‘hee-toh’) in the Philippines. We find many ways of cooking it: char-grilled, pan-fried, or in stews. I remember the Asian catfish or ‘hito’ as dark-skinned, without scales, a large fish which weighed as much as a pound. I also recall the fresh catfish mom bought was jumping in the ‘bayong’ (a native basket) when it came from the wet markets. The jiggling catfish scared me when I was a child. Later when I was a housewife, I discovered I could ask the seller in the market to clean the fish for me so I didn’t have to bring home a wiggling fish.
Here in the States, I buy catfish already in fillets. They have a white-colored flesh, are sweet tasting and mild-flavored. These fillets in nugget sizes were a good complement to the broth with garlic, ginger, tangy vinegar, silk-like coconut milk and made spicy with bird’s eye chilies (siling labuyo in the Philippines). I added sweet organic Jersey tomatoes, thick chayote slices (sayote) and shreds of napa cabbage. This savory, rich stew was so good on a mound of boiled rice; it felt indulgent in the end.
Adobong Hito sa Gata - Catfish in Coconut
- 1 medium to large stockpot (4 to 6 quarts)
- 2 pounds catfish nuggets or fillet slices
- 1 tablespoon lemon juice
- 1/4 cup all-purpose flour, to coat catfish
- 1/4 cup vegetable oil; divided, part for pan frying catfish, leave 2 Tablespoons for saute
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 whole large onion, sliced
- 1 teaspoon minced fresh ginger
- 1/2 cup cider vinegar
- 1 cup vegetable broth
- 2 pieces bay leaves
- 2 teaspoons black peppercorns
- 2 pieces birds eye chilies, siling labuyo in the Philippines
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper powder
- 1 can (13.5 fl oz.) coconut milk
- 2 whole chayote (sayote); peeled, seeded, quartered
- 2 whole tomatoes, sliced
- 3 cups shredded napa cabbage
- for serving: steamed rice
- Pre-marinate catfish nuggets with the juice of a lemon. Cover and set aside for 20 minutes. (Do not marinate longer than this or fish tends to cook in the citrus).
- Drain the lemon juice. Dredge the catfish nuggets in flour. In a large non-stick stock pot, over medium high heat, add the vegetable oil. When oil is hot enough, in about 2 to 3 minutes, add the catfish. Pan fry for 5 minutes. Remove from skillet and drain fish on parchment paper to remove excess oil.
- Using the same stockpot and vegetable oil, saute the garlic, onions and fresh ginger. Add the vinegar, broth, bay leaves, peppercorns, chilies, salt and black pepper powder. Pour the coconut milk and stir to blend with the ingredients. Lower heat and continue simmering for 2 to 3 minutes. Heat should be very low so that the coconut milk does not curdle.
- Place the catfish in the stockpot with the simmering broth. Add the chayote, tomatoes. Cook for about 8 to 10 minutes more till the chayote softens and fish is cooked.
- Add the shredded cabbage. Cover and turn off the heat. The residual heat will cook the cabbage in the last 5 to 10 minutes. Serve warm with rice.
- Cook's comments: Feel free to add other leafy greens or vegetables in season.
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