Kinilaw means to “cook” in vinegar. It’s not really cooking since there is no heat involved. But soaking fish or some other seafood in a strong vinegar solution turns the meat opaque and gives it a texture of having been cooked.
Why do Filipinos love curing fish and meat? Specifically, with the use of vinegar? I was re-reading F. Sionil Jose’s Po-on a couple of months ago and the description of how the Filipinos preserved their food during the 19th century gave me some insight. The operative word is preserve–vinegar and salt are preservatives. Hence, they are used in many of our traditional dishes like adobo, tapa and kinilaw.
There are a variety of fish that can be used for making kinilaw. Tuna, tangigue or tanigue (sea bass), talakitok (cavalla) and lapu-lapu (grouper) are only some of them. I used yellow fin tuna for my kinilaw.
There’s really nothing complicated about making this wonderful Filipino dish. You season the cubed fish fillets with salt and pepper (above, left) then soak them in strong vinegar. Of course, you add some spices to perk up your kinilaw (above, right).
1/4 kilo of yellow fin tuna fillets
half a head of garlic, peeled and crushed
a thumb-sized piece of ginger, peeled and sliced
1 white onion, thinly sliced
2 green chili peppers, cut diagonally into 1/4-inch thick slices
1 red or green bell pepper, diced
1 c. of vinegar
salt and pepper
1/4 c. of kalamansi juice
1 c. of kakang gata (coconut cream)
Cooking procedure :
Wash the fillets and trim any remaining skin and bones. Cut into one-inch cubes. Place in a glass bowl and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Mix well. Pour in the vinegar and mix well. Cover loosely and chill for about two hours.
Drain the fish. Add the kalamansi juice, garlic, chili peppers, bell pepper, ginger and onion. Mix well and chill for another 20 minutes. Pour in the coconut cream, mix well and serve cold.
Note: While it is more common to use red onions for making kinilaw, I prefer the sweet white onions as they give a wonderful contrast to the sourness of the vinegar and kalamansi juice. When eating kinilaw, remember to eat each piece of fish with a few pieces of onions as well. It makes the experience of eating kinilaw really memorable.