Did I tell you the down side to attending that wonderful cooking class I attended that was put on by the Asian Culinary Institute? The adobo has now become a staple in our house (I’m not complaining about this part), and now my husband walks around muttering how he has missed out on years of adobo (this is the problem). In an effort to distract him from his anxious state I made another dish from that class: kinilaw. Unfortunately that only exacerbated the problem, because now he complains of having missed out on kinilaw too.
I can only say, if you are willing the risk similar consequences, the results are so worth it. Oh, so worth it. This dish is truly sublime.
So what is kinilaw? Most people seeking a comparison liken it to cerviche. Kinilaw is primarily raw fish or seafood prepared with a citrus marinade. According to Amy, the biggest difference is that with cerviche, the seafood is “cooked” by the vinegars and citrus added. The kinilaw is truly raw seafood, the marinade is intended only to impart taste, and not to change the textures or flavors. Timing is critical, the seafood must not sit in the marinade. This dish takes eating local to the highest level, when it was prepared and consumed moments after the seafood was pulled from the sea. If you were in the Philippines and close to the sea, the typical preparation might also included cleaning the just caught seafood and then rinsing it with fresh seawater to reawaken its flavors.
This technique can also extend to meats such as beef and water buffalo, but these kinilaws are not as common. Other protein options include seared pork or grilled squid, even vegetables which may be cooked or partially so, and then finished in vinegar or lime. I have to add that other Filipine chefs differ on the timing and intent of the addition of the vinegar and citrus, indicating some “cooking” is done before the fish is served.
Perhaps Edilberto N. Alegre & Doreen G. Fernandez express it best in their 1991 book, Kinilaw: a Philippine Cuisine of Freshness
This Philippine cuisine takes fish and other sea creatures, meat, fruits or vegetables – all at peak freshness, and “sour-cook” them in vinegar or other souring agents, such as citrus, and flavoring them with the proper combination of condiments… The kinilaw moment is that instant when the raw fish (or other seafood, or meat) meets the vinegar or other souring agent, and transformation begins from the raw state. In cooking vegetables, there is a spectrum of textural change: from the hardness of the raw, to the limpness of the overcooked. The perfect moment is the balance when the vegetable, e.g. ampalaya (bitter melon) retains the crispness of the raw, but acquires the softness of the cooked without being either hard or limp.
With kinilaw, the perfect moment is marked visually by a change from translucence towards, but not achieving, opacity. Texturally, it is a moment when the fish or shrimp retains the firm softness of the raw, but reaches a new state of called niluto sa asim – “cooked”, or more accurately transformed, in sourness. It is not an opaque solidity, with the fiber are white and the texture that of a poached fish. It is nearer to raw with the flesh just a breath away from its natural state… Kinilaw: a Philippine Cuisine of Freshness – by Edilberto N. Alegre & Doreen G. Fernandez 1991
Recipe provide by Amy Besa of Purple Yam in New York
Note: If oysters are not your thing, scallops or slightly poached shrimp work equally well.
- 60 fresh oysters, shucked
- fresh citrus juice
- watermelon ice
Juice of a variety of citrus (in Amy’s recipe she suggests juice of 3 each lemon, lime, and orange), but any other varieties can be used. Reserve some for mixing with the seafood.
Finely juilinned ginger (1″ strips)
Finely sliced chilies (preferably long, flavorful, and not too hot)
Note: The key is that the spices while flavorful are subtle so they do not overwhelm the taste of the seafood. Everything should balance.
All should be stored in an ice bath or refrigerator prior to use
Fresh herbs such as basil, cilantro, mint, dill, chives, parsley (we used mint and basil)
2 jicama, julienned
2 bunches assorted radishes, julienned
6 tomatoes, cut into small chunks
4 green mangoes, julienned
1 pomelo, sectioned and pulled into small pieces
4 mandarins, cut into small chunks
General note, one of the tricks to serving this is that all the ingredients should be chilled. So when not being used of waiting for assembly they should either be in the refrigerator or their containers resting in an ice bath.
Season the oysters with the citrus juice and salt and keep them chilled. This should be done about 15 minutes before serving. Unlike cervice, the seafood is not being “cooked” by the citrus.
Assemble the ingredients for the marinade. Note there are no quantities, this is a by the taste sort of process.
Place a large scoop of watermelon ice in the bottom of a bowl. Form a well in the top of the mound to place the oysters and other garnishes. Into the well, place 3 to 4 oysters, or other seafood that are lightly mixed with the citrus juice and pinch of sea salt.
In another bowl, mix the garnish with a bit of that citrus juice, freshly ground pepper and sea salt.
Sprinkle the garnish over the seafood and watermelon ice. Finish with a few extra herbs.
1 large, very ripe watermelon about 10″ in diameter
1/2 c sugar
Juice of 2 lemons
Peel, seed, and puree the watermelon
Add the sugar and lemon juice, stirring until dissolved. If the watermelon is very sweet consider reducing the amount of sugar. Keep in mind that this is not a dessert ice, you are serving this with the seafood and if the ice is too sweet it will throw the balance off.
Freeze for about an hour and crush with an ice pick or large fork. Return to freezer.
This ice was so refreshing, many people could not wait to make the kinilaw and were content to just slup down this yummy treat. I’d suggest going big on the watermelon, as extras are only a good thing in this case.
From what I understand watermelon ice might be an option that Amy Besa and her husband Romy Dorotan developed, I’d suspect that growing watermelon might take up too much ground to be popular. Another option they included in their book was a tomato granita, and I can’t help thinking an apple granita would be delicious too.
Here’s another vegetarian version of kinilaw that I wanted to share. Its made with banana hearts, and if you’ve never had them before they look very exotic, by US standards, and taste delicious. This recipe is from Amy Besa and Romy Dorotan, Memories of Philippine Kitchens
Banana Heart Kinilaw
Serves 4 as a side
4 fresh banana hearts (do not use canned)
4 shallots, thinly sliced
2 T coconut milk
Juice of freshly squeezed lime
½ tsp hot red chile, thinly sliced
1 medium tomato, thinly sliced, for garnish
Fill a bowl with 6 cups of water and 2 T of salt. Swirl to dissolve the salt. Pell the outer layers of the banana hear until you reach the pale colored portion. Finely chop the banana heart and immediately place in the water. Massage the pieces with your hands for about 3 minutes to remove the bitter sap. Discard the soapy looking liquid that emerges. Drain, rinse, and repeat. Repeat as needed until any bitterness has been removed.
Fill a large bowl with water and ice. Bring a medium pot of water to a boil over high heat. Add the banana hears and blanch very briefly, ~ 10 seconds. Strain and place in ice water for about a minute to cool. Drain and pat dry before placing in a serving bowl. Add the shallots, coconut milk, lime juice, chile, and ¼ tsp salt, and combine. Taste and adjust as needed. If the mixture is too dry add more coconut milk. Garnish with the tomato slices and serve.