Milkfish, known in the Philippines as bangus, scientific name Chanos chanos, is the sole specie in the family Chanidae in the order Gonorynchiformes in the subclass Actinopterygii (ray-finned fish). It has a bright silvery sheen, a relatively small toothless mouth, and a single dorsal fin. Milkfish can grow to over a meter long although the ones found in markets are generally smaller.
It is an important aquaculture and commercial fish species. Milkfish farming has been practiced for around 800 years and provides much of the current supply. In 2007, milkfish made up 17% of global finfish production behind only the 40% share accounted for by Atlantic salmon. The Philippines and Indonesia account for the vast majority of production. In 2009, milkfish contributed to 14.03% of Philippine aquaculture production behind seaweed (70.23%) and ahead of tilapia (10.53%).
Comparison to Other Philippine Fish
Philippine waters are home to myriad fish species, many of which are not found elsewhere. But out of all of them, the milkfish has managed to capture the attention of Filipinos the most. There are other notable fish in Filipino culture to be sure. More popular with the masses is the inexpensive galunggong—but it has a fishy taste (malansa). The grouper or lapu-lapu (a name it shares with a national hero) on the other hand is commonly served in fine restaurants. Another prized fish among foodies is the maliputo, as is the increasingly rare ludong. But these usually have no role in the everyday lives of people. The tasty yet relevant fish most everyone in the country can get behind is the milkfish which is considered unofficially by many to be the Philippine national fish.
Milkfish has a distinct flavor; it is not a neutral bland white fish. Still its natural flavor is mild enough that it can be cooked in the manner of neutral white fish, but it tastes best when its flavor is selectively paired with complementary ingredients and cooking methods. It is said that somewhat smaller milkfish taste better. Milkfish from Dagupan/Bonuan, also have a reputation for their flavor. They can be identified by their slightly smaller and more pointed heads.
Before cooking, the milkfish is cleaned by removing the scales and guts. It also has many small bones that will need to be removed at some point, either in preparation or later while eating. Still, deboning is optional for some recipes. Fortunately the small bones are usually clustered together facilitating their removal. The skin is often left on as it can be separated from the meat at the dining table as well or simply eaten. A dark meat lining lies between the white meat and skin and helps to naturally separate the two. The milkfish's belly fat has a flavorful taste. Indeed the belly is a prized portion of the fish. Boneless milkfish belly cuts sold in Philippine markets command a premium.
There are many popular Filipino milkfish recipes such as paksiw na bangus, sinigang na bangus, rellenong bangus, pinaputok na bangus, bangus with tausi, bangus escabeche and bangus sisig. In my view, however, the qualities of milkfish are shown to best advantage by frying it in oil. The classic—and in my book definitive—way to cook milkfish is that used in daing: marinate in vinegar, salt, pepper, and garlic and then fry to a golden brown. I see this cooking method applied to other fish but milkfish cooked this way is especially good. The vinegar and garlic moderate and blend with the flavor of the milkfish's belly fat without overwhelming it. Fried milkfish is often served with atsara or sliced tomato as a side dish or condiment. On the other hand cooking milkfish as a paksiw or sinigang has been shown to retain more of its nutritional attributes.
Milkfish in Other Countries
In Indonesia milkfish is called bandeng; in Taiwan 虱目魚. In Taiwanese cuisine, the belly is often used in a dish of milkfish congee.
According to the USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference raw milkfish contains the following nutrients:
|Nutrient||Unit||Value per 100.0g||# of Data Points||Std. Error||85g|
|Total lipid (fat)||g||6.73||2||--||5.72|
|Carbohydrate, by difference||g||0.00||--||--||0.00|
|Fiber, total dietary||g||0.0||--||--||0.0|
|Vitamin C, total ascorbic acid||mg||0.0||--||--||0.0|
|Vitamin A, RAE||mcg_RAE||30||--||--||26|
|Vitamin A, IU||IU||100||--||--||85|
|Fatty acids, total saturated||g||1.660||--||--||1.411|
|Fatty acids, total monounsaturated||g||2.580||--||--||2.193|
|Fatty acids, total polyunsaturated||g||1.840||--||--||1.564|
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