The recipe called for white wine. I only had some Smirnoff honey vodka at the time. Should I or should I not? Finally, I thought, “Why not?”. And the result is quite good, in fact. But I’m getting ahead of the story.
The main ingredient for this recipe is ‘dulong’. These are teeny weeny white fish with black, beady eyes. Some refer to it in English as baby anchovies; others say they’re anchovy fries (I thought anchovy fries were much bigger?). While it’s easy to find in local markets, I don’t often see it where I am now. One weekend, while loitering around the frozen fish section of the supermarket, lo and behold, I saw these baby fishes on the shelf! I cringed a bit at the price. It was three times more expensive than its regular price back home. But what did I expect, right?
I took home one pack (maybe about 500 grams) of dulong fish that day, eager to make my favorite toast topping once more. It’s really good with toast or crackers. I swear I could finish a whole jar in one sitting. It’s garlicky, tangy, olive oil-y, with a hint of spice — guaranteed to perk up sleepy taste buds.
The last time I made dulong in olive oil was five years ago and I wasn’t sure I had the right measurements. I made this from memory but it turned out pretty well, I must say. Again, it all boils down to personal preferences. As I love garlic so much, you’ll see double the portion here. I also like it on the tangy side so I’d suggest that you reduce the vinegar or lemon juice if you don’t like it too sharp-tasting. The original recipe calls for white wine but I discovered that the honey vodka wasn’t bad at all too as it added another layer to the dish’s flavors. (The Philippines’ having been under Spanish rule for centuries, I am pretty sure this is a variation of the angulas, or baby eels, in olive oil.)
When I was growing up, I saw dulong being cooked in a variety of ways. I remember my parents and grandparents creating dulong patties or cooking them in vinegar (or what we call ‘paksiw’), ginger, chilies, black pepper, and a host of other ingredients. We would even cook it in coconut milk. It’s a versatile ingredient and it’s very tasty. Sometimes, though, I wonder if they are really baby fishes or if they are just tiny fishes that have reached their maturity when caught. Oh well, let’s change the subject, shall we?
500 grams (about 2 cups) fresh dulong
1 cup vinegar
1 to 1-1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup Smirnoff Honey Vodka (or more if you’re that adventurous) or 1/2 cup white wine
5 to 10 cloves (or more if you prefer) garlic, peeled and sliced (you can mince it or slice it or leave it whole)
1 to 2 pcs. dried bay leaf
1 medium-sized red onion (or shallots), chopped or sliced
Whole black pepper
1 pc. bird’s eye chili, chopped (optional)
Pitted black olives, whole or sliced (optional)
1. Wash the dulong in a bowl with water and vinegar to rinse off the fishy smell. Sometimes, I’d just wash the fish first in vinegar and rinsing it off next in water. It depends on your preference. Drain well.
2. In a pan, heat some 3 to 4 tablespoons olive oil. Add the onions and cook until they start to caramelize. You can also add the chili at this point.
3. Add the garlic and let it infuse the oil. Don’t let it burn or you’ll get a bitter aftertaste.
4. Add the dulong and saute a bit before pouring in the vodka. Lower the heat and simmer for a few minutes.
5. Add the bay leaf and black olives. If you think there’s not enough oil, go ahead and pour some more olive oil.
6. If you like to add more vinegar, this is the time to do it. Add salt and pepper to taste.
7. Add the remaining olive oil and turn off heat.
8. Put the dish in a glass jar.
Note: Some people prefer to add the remaining olive oil towards the end of the cooking process while some would rather pour the oil in the jar to cover the dulong.
Let the dish cool down at room temperature. Keep it in the refrigerator and serve chilled with crackers or on toast. Add chopped parsley when serving to give it a fresh, herb-y taste. I also eat it with pickled pearl onions or dill pickles on the side.