Ah, Sisig! When prepared correctly, nothing quite captures the varied flavors and textures of Filipino cuisine like a sizzling-hot platter of chopped pig’s face. It’s true.
Chewy and crispy, fatty and meaty, sour and spicy–they’re all there. Gustatory opposites complementing each other on a single plate of porky goodness. And thanks in large part to the increasing popularity of ethnic street food in the United States, and more specifically, to the growing interest in Filipino cuisine as a whole, more and more people have come to enjoy this once-obscure Pinoy dish.
Since my first post on Sisig nearly three years ago, the humble street food has gone on to enjoy some time in the limelight (err, kalamansi-light?). Sure, sisig has always been served in a handful of mom-and-pop hole-in-the-walls, but it didn’t hurt that some yahoo started slinging pig face from a food truck, or that Anthony Bourdain sang Sisig’s praises on TV:
Alas, despite the joys that come with eating the wobbly and chewy bits of a pig’s face and ears, some people just can’t bring themselves to eat the wobbly and chewy bits of a pig’s face and ears. And that’s understandable. I suppose.
But if you’ve got no qualms with stuffing your own face with that of a pig, there’s also the not-so-small issue of fat–and there’s a lot of it in pig cheeks. Take a look at a cross-section of a pork jowl and it looks a lot like that of a pork belly, hence the term “face bacon”.
So what’s a Filipino food lover to do when a hankering for sisig is had, but just sans fatty face? Luckily, there are more savory sisig scenarios besides pork. Filipinos have long sisig’d other proteins like tofu, chicken, and various seafoods.
But sisig made from Bangus (or milkfish), is perhaps my favorite non-pork face option for the classic street food.
Bangus, the other sisig meat.
You remember bangus don’t you? It’s the meaty and flaky national fish of the Philippines that’s great grilled, stuffed, deep-fried, smoked, and in soups (I’m expecting a check from the Philippine Council of Bangus Anglers any day now [not really]).
And because it’s got a lovely layer of blubber in its belly (I didn’t say it was totally fat-free), Bangus is also perfect for sisig.
To make Bangus Sisig, first head to the freezer section of your friendly neighborhood Asian market and find yourself a deboned and butterflied bangus. Yes, you can find whole fresh bangus (loaded with a gazillion pin bones) at Asian markets, but the packaged and frozen variety are more convenient and sisig-friendly.
After thawing your bangus, marinate it in a simple mix of soy, vinegar, garlic, and pepper, then throw it on a hot grill as outlined in this post. After grilling, flake the fish into pieces–skin, meat, blubber, and all.
Now that you’ve got some fish flake fodder for your sisig, heat a cast iron skillet over high heat, add bit of oil, and quickly saute some chopped shallots, garlic, and a thai-bird chile or three. Add the fish to the hot skillet and mix–some of the meat and most of the skin will crisp nicely in the pan.
And finally, throw an egg onto the hot skillet and allow it to fry to a sunny finish, or break and swirl the egg so that it coats everything in a velvety sheen. Squeeze some fresh kalamansi over the top, grab a beer, and you’ve got yourself some damn-fine bar food straight from the streets of Manila.
Chewy and crispy, (less) fatty and meaty, sour and spicy–all the hallmarks of a good sisig can still be had with the right fish.
Bangus Sisig. It’s got all the street cred of pork sisig, but without all the pig face fat.
Serves 2-4 as an appetizer
1/2 cup white cane vinegar (Sukang Maasim)
1/4 cup soy sauce
6 garlic cloves, smashed and peeled
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 boneless and butterflied milkfish (can be found frozen at Asian markets)
4 tablespoons canola oil, divided
2 shallots, finely chopped
4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1-3 thai bird chilies, finely chopped
kalamansi limes, for spritzing
Combine the vinegar, soy, garlic, and pepper in a shallow dish. Place the fish, flesh side down, into the marinade. Spoon some of the marinade over the skin side as well. Cover dish with plastic wrap, place in refrigerator, and allow to marinate for 6 to 8 hours and turning the fish over during the last hour.
Place the fish, flesh side down, on a hot pre-heated and well-greased grill and cook for 3 to 5 minutes. Brush the skin side of the fish with about 2 tablespoons canola oil, then flip fish over and cook for another 3-5 minutes. Remove from grill and allow to cool.
When the grilled fish is cool enough to handle, break the fish up into small pieces, including the belly blubber and the skin. Discard the head and tail. Place the flaked fish into a medium bowl and set aside.
Heat a small cast iron skillet over high heat. Add 1 tablespoon of oil to the hot skillet, then quickly add the shallots, garlic, and chillies to the skillet. Saute the vegetables until shallots begin to soften, and the garlic just begins to brown, about 1 minute.
Add the flaked fish to the skillet and toss to combine with the vegetables. Form a well in the middle of the skillet, then add 1 tablespoon of oil. Crack the egg into the well, then remove the skillet from the heat. The egg will continue to cook off the heat.
Squeeze some fresh kalamansi juice over the fish, and serve immediately with a side of rice and lots of beer.