This dish hails from rural areas of the Philippines, but its flavors make it popular in the cities as well. Bangus (milkfish in English) is a classic Filipino fish. In this rustic preparation the bright flavors of the suka dipping sauce and the savory garlic rice counteract any fattiness from the deep-fried fish. It’s a dish that’s easy to make, and diners will love the spicy tang of the suka and how it makes the flavors of the dish pop!
For the rice: Bring 1 1/2 cups water and the rice to a rolling boil in a medium saucepan. Lower heat so the water barely simmers and let cook, covered, 12 minutes. Remove from the heat and fluff with a fork.
Heat the oil in a large skillet over high heat for 1 minute. Add the garlic and cook, stirring, until golden. Add the rice to the skillet and mix with the garlic until it is evenly distributed. Flatten the rice so it covers the bottom of the pan. Lower the heat to medium-high and cook without stirring until one side of rice crisps, about 3 minutes. Remove from the heat.
Meanwhile, for the fish: Squeeze the lemon juice evenly over the flesh (cut-side) of the fish. Stir the garlic powder, annatto seeds, onion powder, 1 teaspoon salt and the pepper together in a small cup. Sprinkle the spices over the fish and pat firmly into the flesh. Let sit at room temperature for 5 minutes (the fish can also marinate overnight in the refrigerator).
Place the oil in a large saucepan or pot at least 3 quarts and heat the oil to 350 degrees F on a deep-fry thermometer. Sprinkle the skin of the fish with salt. Fry the fish until the skin is crispy and golden brown and the bubbling around the fish subsides, about 6 minutes.
Drain the fish on a plate lined with paper towels.
Meanwhile, for the suka: Combine the vinegar, chile, garlic, fish sauce and sugar in a ramekin, Stir together for 5 seconds.
To serve, place the fish on top of the rice. Serve the suka on the side.