March 11, 2007

You say kilawin, I say kinilaw...

Summer is just around the corner, there's no denying it. 'Tis the season for pool parties, weekend trips to the beach and afternoons with the outdoor grill. Although in these Philippine islands we can really do all that throughout the year, summer is when it's foremost in our minds. We're always looking for relief from the heat, and it's such a shame to hide in air-conditioned rooms all day.

During past summers in Dumaguete, specifically during Easter, my cousins and I would often rent a balsa (bamboo raft) and let it float away from shore, where the water is cooler and deep enough to dive into. On other days we would take it a step further, rent a banca (outrigger) and head over to Sumilon island and dock at the sandbar there for the day. Food and drink were always overflowing. We brought coolers filled with beer and soda, and tupperwares that contained all sorts of pulutan (finger food or bar chow). So we would laze around on the white powdery beach, or bob along on inner tubes with a drink in our hands or by our side, and food everywhere. On those hot summer nights, we did pretty much the same thing except on land. We hung out, we ate, we drank, we had a great time.

A favorite pulutan then and now is kinilaw (or kilawin). It is light, refreshing and probably the healthiest pulutan you'll find in these shores. For the benefit of those who have not heard of kinilaw, it is basically fish steeped in vinegar in which it naturally "cooks". Similar to ceviche, kinilaw's South American cousin that I first learned about from my Peruvian best friend. Many different types of fish can be used for this such as tuna or tanigue and in this case, bangus (milk fish). What is important is the to clean the fish thoroughly and to eliminate all bones. In the Philippines, it is a staple in many restaurants and bars in the metropolis, though probably best loved by Filipinos eaten by the sea and washed down with a bottle of San Miguel Beer.

I made kinilaw for the first time yesterday to bring to a BBQ/pool party. I used the recipe of my friend whose kinilaw I first tasted in London. It came with a warning about how tedious and time-consuming the process would be, especially to a first-timer. That just challenged me even more. As I cleaned the fish I understood. I'm not sure exactly why he prefers this fish over others but I can't imagine the others being any harder to clean and de-bone. There were no amounts stated for the ingredients, so I had to estimate everything to taste until I was happy with the results.

I was transported back to the beach with the first taste. Surrounded by coconut trees, the taste of salt on my lips, I felt the frothy waves lapping at my feet. With each succeeding bite, I waded in deeper, delirious with delight and perhaps the heat, both from the sun and the chilis.


3 kgs fresh bangus (milk fish)
3 tomatoes, sliced into strips
1 onion, sliced into strips
2 thumbs of ginger, sliced
Milk from a fresh coconut
Sili (chilis) – 2 red, 3 green, finely chopped
white vinegar (nipa sap vinegar)
calamansi (about 12)

1. Scrape scales and remove innards of fish.
2. Wash inside and outside of fish
3. Starting at the back of fish, cut and remove center bone, head, tail and fat in stomach and skin.
4. Cut and separate stomach and meat.
5. Put the fish in a large bowl with ice and cold water while cleaning the rest of it.
6. Cut the flesh into ¼ inch strips discarding ends. Return to bowl with ice and cold water, and about 3 tbsp. rock salt.
7. Wash stomach fillets thoroughly and scrape out fat and bloody parts. Cut into ¼ inch strips discarding ends and fins and combine with the rest.
8. Mix well, discard water and gently squeeze out excess water.
9. Transfer to bowl with ice, cold water and about 2 tbsp rock salt. Toss it around then discard water and gently squeeze out excess water. Repeat 3 times or until water is clear.
10. On last washing squeeze excess water out and transfer to a new bowl.
11. Pour the vinegar over the fish, just enough to completely soak everything. Let fish cook in vinegar (wait till it whitens completely, about 10 minutes or so).
12. When fish is cooked, squeeze out vinegar, rinse the fish then squeeze out excess water.
13. Add ginger, rock salt, onions, tomatoes, calamansi juice and sili then toss around. Taste to see if it needs more salt.
14. Add coconut milk. Refrigerate.


Watergirl said...

I love ceviche, and not just fish, but also scallop and shrimp, or squid versions. My favorite kinilaw was the one I had in Gen. Santos in 1999, the tuna was soooooo fresh (straight from the sea).

My worst kinilaw was strangely in Davao, the tanigue was off. The restaurant had great ambience but the rest of the evening was disappointing after the bad kinilaw.

Anonymous said...

Hey Nens! I love kilawin and yours sounds great...bangus is one of my favorite fish but have never tried it kinilaw style. Yogi did a kilawin with tuna and it was really good! The best I have tried was an oyster kilawin in cebu...amazingly good!

christine said...

I love squid kinilaw too, Mila! I haven't tried scallop and shrimp kinilaw though but I can imagine I would love those too. Wow I can imagine the tuna kinilaw from GenSan was fantastic,that's like tuna capital right?

Hi Jo, bangus is great as kinilaw, I never knew until now. According to Carmeli, Lorenzo (this is his recipe btw) uses bangus because the bangus stomach is the best part and bangus smells the least fishy among all others. Never tried oyster kilawin I think, yum!

Sidney said...

We hung out, we ate, we drank, we had a great time.

We should always do that instead of working ! :-)

Anonymous said...

I love kilawin/ceviche as well, although I've yet to try it with bangus. It's so refreshing, despite often being a pretty hot dish. Funny...we eat kilawin because it's light and eaten cool, therefore great to eat when the weather's hot; but then it has chili, so it's spicy, so we drink some cold beer with it to refresh us again; once the fire in the mouth is doused, the cycle starts all over again...YUM! :-)

Anonymous said...

By the way, I had NO IDEA it took so much work to make kinilaw! I foolishly thought it was quick to make, since there's no cooking involved and not a lot of ingredients. But all that cleaning/rinsing/squeezing! And on top of that, you used bangus, probably one of the boniest fish of all! I'm really impressed!

Anonymous said...

Wonderful entry, reading one of your posts truly is like encountering another culture.

And yes, summer is just around the corner. Wheee!

Ari (Baking and Books)

christine said...

Sidney, I couldn't agree more! :)

Hey Katrina! Yup, it was super tedious and could prove to be a nightmare but the resulting dish was super worth it. The bangus belly is so good in kinilaw! I'll be trying the same recipe with tuna next, just to compare prep time. :)

Hi Ari, thanks! I feel the same way with your posts, which is one of the reasons I keep coming back. And I've learned so much already from you. :)

Unknown said...

I say kinilaw too! Your kinilaw looks so good. I really miss that from home. Your recipe however is different from ours. We've never put coconut in it. That must make it even better. Lami gyud!

We used to make it back home too, but we also used the fish that's made into dilis, but slightly larger. If this was available.

A visiting friend made some one time and used sushi grade tuna. He showed me how, and I just think I will make some soon. Hmmmmm.... I am getting a Sunday Dinner idea.

I really do need to make a list.

christine said...

You know, someone was telling me about using dilis just recently. I think it was Christian. I like that idea actually and may try it sooner than later. :) Try it with the coconut milk, you might just like it even more!

Anonymous said...

some say Kinilaw is one of those truly Pinoy food without foreign interventions :)

vina said...

so you're from dumaguete/negros oriental? :)

christine said...

Tutubi, I can believe that. With the coconut milk, ginger, calamansi and the use of vinegar? I think that's all truly our own.

Hi Vina! My dad is from Dumaguete. :) Are you from Negros too?

Anonymous said...

I love kilawin too! I haven't had it for years. The one i used to love was fresh anchovy. When i was in philippines, i used to help with cleaning the fish. Taking out the heads and bones. I learned the trick of how to do it so easily. Tedious job but well worth it, right?

Oh, so good.


christine said...

Mae, if those are anything like boquerones, oh wow! I think I'm trying that.And yes, very tedious and very worth it. Less tedious of course if you use tuna and tanigue. Are anchovies just as tedious as bangus, you think? Maybe you can share your cleaning tricks when I get around to making this again. :)

vina said...

yes, but from bacolod :)

christine said...

I should have known! :) It's really true what they say about people from Bacolod & Dumaguete, you'll be hard pressed to find a warmer and cheerful bunch of people.

Anonymous said...

Wow! Brava to you for tackling milkfish. I've heard about those tricky bones but never took on the idea of challenging myself at it.

The Phillipines will just have to be in a trip itinerary one day. You make it seem like a real paradise.