Growing up, my grandmother would cook strips of labahita, coated in flour to make fish fillet. While they were delicious, it was more of a texture rather than flavor driven. It was after all, just a fillet of fish, coated in flour, then fried. Later on, as I was learning to cook, my mom gave me a slab of labahita to fry.
Wondering how to cook it, one of my aunts who’d fry chicken in a marinade of calamansi (Philippine Lemon) and patis (fish sauce) sprang to mind. It sounded like a good idea at that time. I also remembered watching a cooking show on TV were the host was extolling the virtues of coating with cornstarch instead of flour for a lighter, crisper coating. Deciding to experiment, I applied both ideas to that slab of labahita. The result? Tasty, crispy fish fillets that everyone loved. Even my mom couldn’t find fault in it. We knew it was to be added at once to our list of recipes.
While the Fish Fillet recipe has been a stand-by favorite for years, it was only last week that I got the Lemon Butter down. In the past, I used to make lemon butter with melted butter and lemon juice. It was pretty so and so, and I’d get admonished for making too much and wasting butter.
One time, at a buffet though, I was served fish fillet with lemon butter that had the lemon butter in butter form. Inspired by that buffet, I experimented on my own lemon butter. Sure enough, it was a success. The flavor was more intense, it was easier to use and the leftovers could easily be kept for later use. So now, my Fish Fillet has finally met its match. Try them together–they make for a pretty satisfying meal.
Fish Fillet v. 25 November 2007
1 labahita (surgeonfish), filleted
3 Tbsp patis (fish sauce)
1 Tbsp calamansi (Philippine lemon) or lemon juice
1 Tbsp water
Oil for frying
1. Cut the labahita fillet into 1-2″ sized squares.
2. Mix the patis, calamansi and water. You can adjust measurements to suit your taste, but it should be salty-sour. The water’s added to lessen the sharpness of the flavor.
3. Marinate the fish in the patis-calamansi mix for 15-30 minutes.
4. Heat enough oil to submerge at least half the fish.
5. Just right before you fry each fish nugget, roll in cornstarch until coated. Don’t coat the fish earlier than that because it makes the crust tough instead of light and crisp.
6. Fry both sides until lightly golden. Drain on paper towels.
Lemon Butter v. 25 November 2007
1/4 cup butter (salted)
1 tbsp lemon juice
1 tsp labuyo or Tabasco sauce
1. Leave the butter out in room temperature until soft enough to cream. Don’t heat as it’ll melt. Instead, cut the butter into tiny pieces to speed up the softening process.
2. Add the lemon juice, hot sauce and a pinch of salt and pepper. Feel free to vary the quantity if you’d like it less spicy. If you don’t like it spicy at all, don’t add any. Mixing the lemon juice and hot sauce can be a bit difficult since butter is oil-based. Still, just continue mixing along as it will eventually blend into a thick, creamy spread.
3. Serve in a dish beside your fish fillet. If you have leftover lemon butter, place on a sheet of wax paper, roll into a cylinder and refrigerate for later use. It’s yummy on toast!