Grilled Panga

Grilled Panga ng Lapu-Lapu with Crispy Fried Spinach

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I’ve stopped buying or eating fish for maybe three years now; even more I believe. I’m not exactly sure how long it has been, but prices of fresh seafood here is so exorbitant that a New York Striploin is so much cheaper to have for dinner as against a Tuna or a Salmon Steak. Frozen seafood is scattered everywhere and I’d normally just settle for that one, however, fresh fish is sometimes so tempting and just taste so succulent when it has been cooked and prepared properly. Honestly, I don’t have so much in my arsenal when cooking fish. My head is blank and empty, and I can’t seem to cook something decent when fish is involved.

Back in Manila, and when I still do come and visit, my mom and I would usually just hang-out at Gerry’s Grill along Jupiter on a Friday night to sample their fish and seafood from the grill. Gerry’s Grill was relatively new at that time and they showcased Filipino Grill Classics and other Filipino dishes which made them stand out among the rest. I’m not sure if that kind of Filipino Grilling is truly, ‘the one and only’ way, but I feel charcoal grilling is prevalent in many parts of Southeast Asia. Other countries might have other ingredients mixed with the dish, but many vendor food still hits the charcoal to achieve that smoky, spicy and sweet smell coming from the marinade. Filipino approach to grilling though is simple, with varying marinade to match either fish, pork or chicken or maybe one kind of marinade for all. This is the dilemma for Filipino food in general. Taste is common, and there isn’t really any specific approach to grilling which make at least one or two dishes to stand apart from the others. North Americans grill their fish on a plank and use smoking with grilling. That technique, maybe, could also be applied as another approach to Filipino grilling. Moreover, grilling beef or steaks is almost non-existent except maybe for hamburgers. The steakhouses and hotels deal with that and they don’t actually cater to ordinary Filipino employees eking out an ordinary living only to be able to enjoy a ‘night-out’ once a week or even just after payday like Gerry’s does.

I fell in love with the Fish Head and Cheeks when I steamed it with ginger, leek, green onion. I enjoyed each part of the head and I sucked those cheeks of every meat left. I guess that was the fun of eating a fish head. A huge fish head with healthy portions of meat attached to the bones is just mesmerizing and those kinds are also available in many Asian local groceries here; each fish head priced differently per pound. I really haven’t chosen the type of fish head I will do for this challenge, but I know it will be a little more expensive than the one I steamed previously.

Here’s another problem I’m faced with. I don’t have a charcoal grill. I know charcoal grilling is a common practice when doing BBQ in Pinas, but, unfortunately, I live in an enclosed property in an overcrowded or densely populated city, and barbequing is prohibited to almost banned. All I have is my trusty old oven and a cheap $20 grill pan. My only choices really are to crank up my oven at high to cook the fish head at an appropriate temperature without losing out on its moisture or use the grill pan and grill the fish as it should, and it shouldn’t come out dry. Fish is just so delicate to handle.

Grilled Panga ng Lapu-Lapu

Marinade: to taste
• Ginger
• Garlic
• Onion
• Mexican Oregano
• Salt & Pepper
• Honey
• Bird’s Eye Chilis
• Lemon
• Lime
• Mirin (Rice Vinegar)
• Light Soy Sauce
• Dark Soy Sauce
• Canola Oil

Separate the fish head from the ‘Panga’ and wash thoroughly.

In a bowl, prepare the marinade. Adjust the seasonings according to taste.

Place the ‘Panga’ in the bowl and marinate from a day to overnight.

Heat and season the grill pan before laying the ‘Panga’ down.

Season with salt, pepper, lemon and lime juice while grilling, and continue basting the ‘Panga’ as you go.

Crispy Fried Spinach

1 Egg Beaten (egg wash)
Panko Bread

Separate the stems from the leaves and blanch the Spinach.

Pass through cold water to stop the cooking process and begin preparing the breading trays for frying.

Dredge with the flour first, followed by the egg wash, and finally the Panko Breadcrumbs. Season the flour and egg wash before proceeding.

Deep-fry or Pan-fry until golden, and season with salt before serving.

Dipping Sauce: to taste
Light Soy Sauce
Lime Juice
Brown Sugar
Salt & Pepper
Minced Garlic
Birds’ Eye Chilis

KCC did a very good job for this month’s challenge. It had me really thinking. For one, I grew up in the city and I’ve never encountered food that’s considered exotic. I don’t indulge in balut. My balut is penoy and crustaceans are generally off-limits because of my allergy. My only actual choices are fish and calamares, and it was definite that I wouldn’t take on Tilapia or Bangus. They are very popular everywhere. Frozen tilapia is sold here in boxes to accommodate the ever growing Filipino population here in Toronto. I’m sure they always end up either fried, grilled or boiled like what many do, and which I don’t. The fish head, particularly the ‘panga,’ caught my attention and that was the only way I could eat fish at an affordable way. That led me to do this dish. I am loving the fish head and the ‘panga’ as against other types of fish.

I’m not exactly sure if I had used Lapu-Lapu or not. The sign on the fish monger’s board said Grouper. It was just too irresistible to let go when I first saw it. I also saw some fins just beside it, and wanted to grab some, but didn’t know what to do them. Someday though, I will tackle those mouth-watering fins as well.

“Kulinarya Cooking Club was started by a group of Filipino foodies living in Sydney who are passionate about the Filipino culture and its colourful cuisine.

Each month we will showcase a new dish along with their family recipes. By sharing these recipes, we hope you find the same passion and love for Filipino food as we do.” – Kulinarya Cooking Club

“Philippine Independence Day is just around the corner…so for this month’s challenge, Cherrie Moore of Sweet Cherrie Pie & I have decided to focus on our country’s unique dishes i.e., food that can be found “Only in the Philippines”.  Whether it’s an appetizer, soup, main entree, dessert or even snack, we would love to see you share a favorite food of yours that can’t be found anywhere else.” – Tina of Pinay In Texas Cooking Corner

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When I was growing up, my parents and I used to eat out and try different restaurants after celebrating the Sunday Mass. Moreover, during the course of the summer break, I had the opportunity to see some places which, when looking back, I had never realized how lucky I was as a teen to be able to travel. My family and I went to Europe and some parts of the United States, and what I saw along that path of my life inspired me to become a 'Chef.' The 'whites' they wore for me, during those growing-up and finding 'myself' years, portrayed a sort of fascinating and powerful figure in an extremely sophisticated, higly inviting and invigorating work place; and still maintain an unblemished and clean uniform after a very busy service. That picture of a 'Chef' stuck to my head for so many years.

True enough, with meager resources left to spend for the youngest, that dream never happened. Life went on. I went to university and studied an insignificant course, Business Management, and after graduating, I ended up working as a Credit and Financial Analyst in the banking industry in Manila; slugging it out in the corporate arena in Makati. It was the first taste of being called a 'yuppie' and was almost always looking forward to an after-office eating and drinking extravaganza in the expanding and growing Makati Business District; and, of course, the weekend.

Anyway, forging ahead to my life today, that dream as 'Chef' stayed in the back of my mind all the time that when I left the Philippines for Toronto in 2003; and after finally settling down on my own in 2005, I had started studying Professional Culinary Arts Courses in the City College to get that almost long-forgotten 'dream' going again. It was a Continuing Education Course, and more or less, students who have also shifted careers or who were trying to find work (like myself) as a newly landed found ourselves working with pots, knives and fire which I believe and I felt, everyone in class have never, ever touched during their past, professional lives.

Since then, I have been working in and out of different kitchens; flipping eggs and hamburgers, grilling steaks, shoving bread and chicken in a 500'C oven, and almost anything that can be either deep-fried or toasted just to serve hungry, sometimes pesky, customers. I became a 'grease' cook; a short-order cook with no definite place of employment, and definitely not a 'Chef.'

My articles are based on the after-thoughts of my past and present day experiences in this fast-paced, starkling, and sometimes disheveling kitchen environment. I never imagined that a kitchen 'worklife' turned that way as against the 'Ideal' environment I had thought about for years. No regrets. During this journey, I've discovered food which I've never thought I'd be able to taste. I learned to appreciate wine and travel more; now that I have understood the culture of food to society. That was non-existent when I was growing up.

This journey has not ended. I'm still discovering and still learning. It's a tough industry to be in and for what's next or for where I'll finally end up in remain a sordid mystery.

13 thoughts on “Grilled Panga ng Lapu-Lapu with Crispy Fried Spinach

  1. I love this Erwin! I’ve eaten lots of panga ng isda when I was in the Philippines! Sarap talaga!
    Your crispy spinach side dish looks good too
    Thanks for joining this month’s challenge!

  2. I remember a place called Rufus in Makati that serves panga… and OMG this post reminded me with how delish the panga is. Great contribution for this month’s challenge. Now can I have an ice cold San Mig too please?

    Happy Monday!

    1. Hi! I went to Rufus the last time I was in Manila (c/o my ex or I wouldn’t have known about it ;)). It was a popular destination for many office employees in and around that area of Makati, and it didn’t frustrate me. Thanks! Cheers!

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