Maranao Smoked Fish Croquettes (pisasati o tinapa)

Pisasati is an everyday dish of the Maranao people from the Muslim region of the island of Mindanao. The original is traditionally made with smoked whole tuna called bakas and a piquant condiment known as palapa, whose key ingredient is sakurab, a unique type of scallion rarely found outside of Mindanao. In its stead, shallots and garlic combine to provide a similar—if not altogether exact—flavor substitute.

  • 2 cups grated fresh coconut
  • 8 shallots, peeled and coarsely chopped
  • 3 to 4 bird’s eye chiles, seeded and coarsely chopped
  • 3 tablespoons coarsely chopped fresh ginger
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • Sea salt
  • 1 large (about 1 pound) tinapa, such as milkfish or tuna, skinned, deboned, and flaked
  • 1/2 cup finely diced white onion
  • 1/2 cup finely diced red bell pepper
  • 1 large egg, beaten
  • Vegetable oil, enough to cover the bottom of a frying pan

Put the coconut in a dry skillet or frying pan and put the pan over medium-high heat. Toast the coconut, stirring constantly, until it takes on a deep caramel color (be very careful not to burn the coconut; don’t worry if there are some flakes that remain white). Transfer the toasted coconut to a plate to cool, then transfer it to a food processor and pulse until it resembles coarse coffee grounds, yielding approximately 1 cup of toasted grated coconut. Set aside.

Put the shallots, chiles, ginger, garlic, and a large pinch of salt into a mortar or a small chopper and grind them to a fine paste with no discernible chunks left. Set aside.

In a mixing bowl, combine the tinapa flakes, onions, and bell peppers. Add 1/2 cup of the toasted coconut and all of the shallot mixture and stir until well combined. Add the beaten egg and mix with your hands until the mixture comes together and feels like soft dough; if it is too soft, add more of the remaining toasted coconut, 1/4 cup at a time. Make a small test patty; if the mixture is too loose and does not hold together, add another beaten egg. Form the mixture into one tiny piece and cook it in a pan, taste it, and add more salt to the mixture as necessary. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate the mixture for about fifteen minutes.

Heat the oil in a frying pan. With lightly oiled hands, form a scant 1/4 cup of the fish mixture into a patty or quenelle, gently squeezing it as you go to make sure everything binds together. Repeat until you run out of the fish mixture. Carefully drop each fish patty into the hot oil one by one, leaving some space between each one. Fry on all sides until the patties turn a deep golden color. Remove them from the pan onto a paper towel-lined platter. Let the croquettes cool for a bit before serving them with steamed rice, over a green salad, or as an appetizer. 

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