Sunday, January 9, 2011

Fish Fillet with Taro Leaves in Coconut Milk

When Jan first tasted Bicol Express, he fell head over heels in love with it. Since then, he has embarked on a quest to discover the many palatable delights of Bicol cuisine.

One of his co-workers, Manning, is from Bicol and is also an excellent cook. He taught Jan this particular fish recipe. Thank you Manning for this delightful dish.

From what I've heard, coconut milk is a popular ingredient in the region. In this recipe, it takes on as much of a starring role as the fish itself. For foreign cooks who aren't familiar with the use of coconut milk for cooking, this is not the juice that you get straight out of the coconut. The coconut meat is first scraped out with a special tool that'll make the coconut meat look like thin, short grated threads. This is then squeezed to get the white milk out.

The fish I bought for this one was called Pangasius. The unfamiliar name sounded ominous to me but I was constrained to settle for it since there was no other kind on sale at the time. Before I could start wondering though what possible anatomical peculiarities the fish carried in its full form, a casual search in Google revealed that Pangasius really is just a type of catfish.

One ingredient that was totally new to my taste buds was taro leaves which in the Philippines is more popularly known as gabi. This, I have been told is another ingredient that Bicolanos are skilled users of.

It takes a true expert to know how to pick and handle gabi. Old stock gabi that is cooked too vigorously or that is half cooked can cause your entire mouth and throat to itch painfully. You probably need a gabi consultant if you want to try your hand at using it.


1 glass coconut milk
1 stalk lemon grass
1/8 cup ginger, sliced
1/2 bell pepper, sliced
1 fish fillet
green onions


1. Bring coconut milk to a boil.

2. Add lemon grass and ginger. Simmer for a few minutes. Add bell pepper.

3. Wrap fish fillet in taro/gabi leaves and add into the mixture. Simmer for about 10 minutes.

4. Add green onions and remove from heat. Serves one.

Wife's Verdict.

The fish was a bit too flaky but the more fibrous gabi leaves gave the dish a more fuller bite. If Jan had a say on the fish shopping, he would have preferred tuna.

Coconut milk is always a personal favorite of mine in dishes because it has that slight hint of sweetness that coats the main ingredients like it did in this recipe. I also particularly like coconut milk for cooking because it's not too creamy like cow's milk.

Jan's Quip: "Where would we be if I didn't know how to cook?"

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