Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Bangus | Milkfish

Milkfish, a silvery scaled fish

Scientific Chanos chanos
Other Giant herring

Milkfish in the Philippines is called bangus. The scientific name of bangus is Chanos chanos. It 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, Philippine milkfish production contributed to 14.03% of Philippine aquaculture production behind seaweed (70.23%) and ahead of tilapia (10.53%).

Philippine Bangus

Bangus – Philippine national fish?
Philippine waters are home to myriad fish species, many of which are not found elsewhere.  But out of all of these fish bangus 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 unlike bangus fish like 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 unofficially considered by many as the Philippines' national fish.

Marinated fried boneless bangus belly served with garlic bits slice of tomato and rice at Jollibee

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.

Pre-marinated packaged frozen milkfish Sarangani Bay brand

There are many popular Filipino milkfish recipes such as paksiw na bangus, sinigang na bangus, rellenong bangus, pinaputok na bangus, bangus sa tausi, bangus escabeche and bangus sisig.  In my view, however, the qualities of milkfish are shown to best advantage in bangus recipes where it is fried in oil to brown it and create a maillard reaction rather than steamed or baked which can leave bangus tasting somewhat limp although this can be overcome if it is accompanied in the dish by other ingredients imparting contrasting flavors and textures.  The classic—and in my book definitive—way to cook milkfish is that used in daing na bangus:  marinate in vinegar, salt, pepper, and garlic and then fry to a golden brown. This cooking method is applied to other fish as well 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 and the crispy bangus skin is a contrast with the tender meat.  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.

Pritong Bangus Milkfish

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.

Nutrition Information

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
Water g 70.85 2 -- 60.22
Energy kcal 148 -- -- 126
Energy kJ 619 -- -- 526
Protein g 20.53 1 -- 17.45
Total lipid (fat) g 6.73 2 -- 5.72
Ash g 1.14 1 -- 0.97
Carbohydrate, by difference g 0.00 -- -- 0.00
Fiber, total dietary g 0.0 -- -- 0.0
Calcium, Ca mg 51 1 -- 43
Iron, Fe mg 0.32 1 -- 0.27
Magnesium, Mg mg 30 -- -- 26
Phosphorus, P mg 162 1 -- 138
Potassium, K mg 292 -- -- 248
Sodium, Na mg 72 -- -- 61
Zinc, Zn mg 0.82 40 0.040 0.70
Copper, Cu mg 0.034 41 0.002 0.029
Manganese, Mn mg 0.020 -- -- 0.017
Selenium, Se µg 12.6 -- -- 10.7
Vitamin C, total ascorbic acid mg 0.0 -- -- 0.0
Thiamin mg 0.013 1 -- 0.011
Riboflavin mg 0.054 1 -- 0.046
Niacin mg 6.440 1 -- 5.474
Pantothenic acid mg 0.750 -- -- 0.638
Vitamin B-6 mg 0.423 1 -- 0.360
Folate, total µg 16 -- -- 14
Folic acid µg 0 -- -- 0
Folate, food µg 16 -- -- 14
Folate, DFE mcg_DFE 16 -- -- 14
Vitamin B-12 µg 3.40 1 -- 2.89
Vitamin A, RAE mcg_RAE 30 -- -- 26
Retinol µg 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
Cholesterol mg 52 1 -- 44
Amino Acids
Tryptophan g 0.230 -- -- 0.196
Threonine g 0.900 -- -- 0.765
Isoleucine g 0.946 -- -- 0.804
Leucine g 1.669 -- -- 1.419
Lysine g 1.886 -- -- 1.603
Methionine g 0.608 -- -- 0.517
Cystine g 0.220 -- -- 0.187
Phenylalanine g 0.802 -- -- 0.682
Tyrosine g 0.693 -- -- 0.589
Valine g 1.058 -- -- 0.899
Arginine g 1.229 -- -- 1.045
Histidine g 0.604 -- -- 0.513
Alanine g 1.242 -- -- 1.056
Aspartic acid g 2.102 -- -- 1.787
Glutamic acid g 3.065 -- -- 2.605
Glycine g 0.986 -- -- 0.838
Proline g 0.726 -- -- 0.617
Serine g 0.838 -- -- 0.712

More information:



  1. Hi, just wondering what brand is good out in the philippine local grocery store? Last time I bought a pre-marinated pack, it had bones, scales and a horrible taste. If there's any you can recommend, I'd be really grateful :)

    1. Buy in China Town the Bangus daing and it is boneless and well marinated. I always buy mine there and I just brush the frying pan with oil and that's it till brown.