I was too busy these past few weeks and I have to admit that my clock was running too fast that I had not been as active in the kitchen. I was also absent in blogging for quite a while too so I have missed to post a lot of recipes. In fact, I have a number of dishes in queue (foods that I have photographed and already devoured but still awaiting for a write-up) that I am so very much excited and itching to write about. Thankfully now, things start to get in their normal phase and I have more time to sit down. And so to make up with my very long list, here is a very interesting Bicolano dish to begin with.
My ever dedicated Bicolana house help Manang Nita once told me that she had been missing to prepare a Bicolano dish for me just like what she used to do for me when I was on my sickbed for weeks recuperating from a minor surgery. She had the most motherly care and almost everyday, she would cook me authentic and specialty dishes of her hometown. I teased her in a lighthearted manner if there is anything else that she has not yet cooked for me as far as Bicolano dishes are concerned. I was just bursting a rhetorical question, of course, since there are still a multitude of dishes from her native town that we have yet to try. Apparently, we have not even reached half of our list. We had a very lovely sunny day and our morning skies were amazingly clear and brilliant as if taking a short break from the successive monsoon rains that kept the city gloomy for the past days. Manang was just excited to cook for me, the same excitement as I had about the idea of finally devouring again some good home-cooked mother dish that I had been craving to eat for weeks. She manned the entire kitchen armed with her chilies and coconut milk while I keenly and quietly stalked on the side with my pen and paper, jotting down her recipe for her sinanglay, not to miss even a single ingredient or instruction along the way.
Sinanglay na Tilapia is a dish that originated in the Bicol Province, a Philippine region where coconuts and chili peppers are abundant and Manang Nita’s birth town. The recipe calls for a fish, usually tilapia, stuffed with salsa of onions, tomatoes, garlic, ginger and chili pepper, traditionally wrapped in pechay or taro leaves and stewed in freshly squeezed pure coconut milk – very much similar with other “ginataan” dishes (dishes cooked in coconut milk) that Manang had been cooking for me. The parcels are usually tied with either tanglad (lemongrass) or pandan to keep the fillings and vegetable wrappers intact. Here, the lemongrass and pandan leaves have a dual-purpose – to secure the fish and its stuffing and to serve as aromatic infusing the fish meat with those distinct flavors. It is truly comforting that it always reminds of the taste of home. This native dish from Manang Nita's hometown is another example of an authentic, hearty and tasty Filipino food that do not require sophisticated ingredients, only artistry and pure love.
Sinanglay na Tilapia
Number of Servings: 6
- 6 pcs. small to medium sized tilapia, descaled and gutted
- 1 bunch pechay or taro leaves
- 2-3 cups kakang gata ng niyog (freshly extracted coconut milk) (see tips) or ready-to-use coconut creme in can
- 4 small tomatoes, finely diced
- 2 small red onions, finely diced
- 1/2-inch ginger, minced
- 4 cloves garlic minced
- 3 pcs. red chili pepper, minced
- 4 pcs. calamansi limes
- 1 tbsp. lemongrass stalk
- 12 pcs. lemongrass or pandan leaves (for tying)
- 1-2 tbsps. patis (fish sauce)
- salt and pepper to taste
- In a small bowl, make salsa by combining the tomatoes, onions, garlic, ginger, red chili and calamansi juice. Season with salt and pepper. Mix well, slightly mashing the ingredients with clean hands to allow the flavors and juices to come out. Set aside.
- Make a lengthwise incision (about 1/2-inch deep) on the dorsal part of the fish, from below the head down to the tail. Thoroughly wash the tilapia under running water until no more trace of blood is visible. Pat dry with paper towel.
- Season with salt and pepper the flesh and the inner portion of the fish. Scoop about 2 tablespoons of the salsa mixture and fill in the openings of the tilapia. Wrap the fish with pechay leaves, making sure that the open areas are covered and the stuffing are intact. Tie 2 strands of lemongrass around the fish to secure the pechay wrap. Do the remaining ingredients with the rest of the fish.
- In a large saucepan, arrange the wrapped tilapia side by side on a single layer. Pour in the coconut milk, just enough to cover the fish. Add the lemongrass stalk. Bring the liquid to a boil and then set to simmer for about 10 to 20 minutes, carefully flipping the tilapia halfway through to evenly cook the fish. Using a slotted spoon, occasionally ladle the sauce on top of the fish during the cooking process to avoid curdles from forming. Season with fish sauce.
- Remove from heat once the sauce is reduced and almost rendering fat. Transfer on a platter and serve with hot steamed rice. Enjoy!
TIPS FROM ENZ:
- To make fresh coconut milk, combine 3 cups of water with freshly grated flesh of a matured coconut fruit, mash the grated coconut with your clean hands to extract the milk. Strain the liquid on a fine sieve and then discard the pulp. The extracted milk can now be used for cooking.
- If fresh tilapia is not available, you can use the frozen tilapia fillet. Other tender and white-flesh fish can also be used - cod, haddock and salmon are good alternatives.
- If there are no pechay or taro leaves, bok choy and green mustard can be substituted.