How To Choose The Perfect Bangus

Find the perfect big-bellied bangus for your dish.

Your dish is only as good as your ingredients! When looking for the perfect bangus (milkfish), there are a few things you need to keep in mind. Did you know that there's a specific bangus breed that's hailed to be the tastiest? Do you know how to spot a big belly without having to open up a fish? These are just a few things you absolutely must know when finding the perfect bangus.

1 Go For Dagupan Bangus

The tastiest and juiciest bangus comes from Dagupan. The milkfish from Dagupan is bred in a unique environment: The brackish water where it spawned is where the salty water of Lingayen Gulf and the fresh water of the Dagupan River meet. That just can't be duplicated!

Good news is that you don't have to go all the way to Dagupan just to be sure of your bangus' quality. 

These are the physical characteristics of Dagupan bangus you have to look for:

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  1. Its lower tail is shorter than its upper tail.
  2. It has a short head and a short mouth.
  3. It has a protruding stomach (which also indicates a fat belly!).

If you are buying deboned, packaged bangus, look for its origin to confirm it is from Dagupan.

Bangus belly is the best part.
Photo by Majoy Siason

2 How To Find A Big Belly

The best part of bangus is the big, fat belly! When bangus is perfectly cooked, the belly absorbs a ton of flavors, and when it's in your mouth, it just melts. Finding a fresh whole milkfish with a fat belly might seem like guesswork. There's no need to guess! There's a way to be sure you're getting the best belly before it's sliced open and considered sold by your fish vendor. 

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How can you tell a fat belly from one that isn't? Look for a protruding belly, then to make sure it isn't all air, pinch the belly with your thumb and forefinger. It should feel very firm

3 Choose The Right Size

Now, the right size of bangus depends on what recipe you are making.

Choose the right size for the recipe.
Photo by Majoy Siason
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For stuffed fish recipes like rellenong bangus, use a large fish. The best size is around 500-700 grams. Using a small fish will be a hassle to debone, stuff, and sew closed. Also, since rellenong bangus is a great recipe for parties and handaans, it looks more impressive to serve it when it's large. Just make sure that whatever size you choose, the finished product will fit your serving platter. 

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You can make Spanish-style sardines at home!
Photo by Miguel Nacianceno
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If you're making Spanish-style milkfish, use smaller fish. It won't matter if it's too bony as the recipe will call for pressure cooking, which will soften the fishbones to the point that it's soft and edible. A smaller size will also help if you are planning to seal it in a jar.

Cooking starts at the market.
Photo by Ray Gonzales

4 Check For Freshness

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Remember the rules when buying fresh fish in general. The fresher, the better! If you can buy your milkfish while it's alive, that's even better but in any case, these are what you should check: 

  1. Check the gills: it should be bright and red.
  2. Check the eyes: it should be clear, not cloudy or bloodshot.
  3. Check the smell: it shouldn't smell foul and should have a clean, ocean-like smell.
  4. Check the body: the fins and tail should be intact, scales should not be falling off, and shouldn't have signs that it has been mishandled or aged.

With these tips in mind, your bangus dishes can be the best they can be. Here's where you can start:

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