Fish Kinilaw

Fish Kinilaw
Filipino Fish Kinilaw just broke its way into one of the world’s most discerning of culinary tastes — the Madrid Fusion which is said to be Spain’s “most important international gastronomy summit.” The most recent Madrid Fusion was held on February 2 to 4. Also said to be the world’s most important chef’s congress, it was attended by two of the best chefs in the Philippines, namely Chefs Margarita Fores and Myrna Segismundo. This reminds me of the photos I took of the more recent Fish Kinilaw I made some weeks back. (I have more recipe photos than I have the time to blog about.)

On a personal note, Fish Kinilaw is one of the dishes I love simply because it’s one of my husband’s favorite foods. It is actually, along with Humba or Pork Adobo, a certified man’s food. Ask any average Filipino hunk for his favorite food and and any of these three — Lechon (roasted whole pig), Humba and Fish Kinilaw — would figure out in his list.

However, Fish Kinilaw is not really a dish that I could prepare with absolute peace of mind simply because of one word: parasites. You see, Fish Kinilaw is raw fish. And when I think of raw fish, I would always remember that tragic day in my college Microbiology class where I let out a blood-curdling shriek when the raw tamban meat tissue specimen I was peering through the microscope suddenly afforded me a monstrous view of  a wriggling worm.
So is Fish Kinilaw safe to eat? I don’t know. So what’s a dubious recipe doing in this health blog? I’m not sure. Maybe I just want to feature it here in the hopes that a microbiologist, nutritionist or scientist would sound off his thoughts and hopefully absolve this most delicious dish from guilt. But you know what, I am hanging onto the sheer thread that this dish is safe after all. For one, it is mixed with vinegar and a slew of herbs, and sometimes with fresh coconut milk — a trilogy which I desperately think — and hope —  would take care of the live critter problem.

There have been sporadic cases of food poisoning and parasitic infestation due to Fish Kinilaw — unfortunate incidents which have never deterred many Filipinos (including me) from enjoying this dish occasionally. Personally, I observe the following guidelines in eating or preparing this dish:
  • I eat Fish Kinilaw only rarely, or just on special occasions.
  • I eat this only when I personally know or trust the person or restaurant that prepared it.
  • When I prepare this dish, I slice the fish into small, thin pieces.
  • I soak the fish in raw, unpasteurized coconut vinegar for not less than 15 minutes. Commercial or bottled vinegar is pasteurized vinegar in which the good bacteria have been zapped by heat.
  • I use a LOT of herbs as these usually have antiparasitic, antibacterial and antifungal properties.
  • I add in pure, fresh coconut milk which also has documented antiparasitic powers on top of its nourishing, lauric oil-laden goodness.

Fish Kinilaw
Fish Kinilaw Recipe
  • Serves 4 to 6
  • Prep time: 20 minutes
  • Cook time: 0 (it’s raw remember)

  • ½ lb or half a kilo of white meat fish
  • coconut vinegar — about one cup for soaking and about half a cup for flavoring
  • thumb-sized piece of fresh ginger root
  • 1 big red onion
  • 2 medium ripe tomatoes
  • 2 medium red bell pepper
  • 7 pcs red chili pepper (use fewer if you can’t take this much heat)
  • 3 pcs green chili pepper
  • 2 sprigs of scallions
  • juice of about 5 lemons
  • coconut milk (from one coconut or at least half a cup)
  • salt and pepper

1. Start with fish that has been cut into small pieces. I think vinegar and the herb essences would get more easily into the interiors of thin and tiny cuts than they would in thicker cuts.
Fish Kinilaw
2. Soak the fish in raw, unpasteurized coconut vinegar (you can use any vinegar actually, just use unpasteurized kinds) for not less than 15 minutes.

herbs for Fish Kinilaw
3. Mince your herbs very finely. Set aside.

Fish Kinilaw
4. Squeeze out the vinegar from the fish and then discard the vinegar. Transfer the fish to a mixing bowl. You will observe at this point that the fish meat assumes a whiter color, almost like it’s cooked. Do not use plastic bowls as the acid reacts with plastic. Use glass, ceramic or porcelain.

Fish Kinilaw
5. Season with salt and pepper.

herbs for Fish Kinilaw
6. Add in the herbs. Pour in the coconut vinegar and coconut milk. Season with more salt and pepper if needed. Some put in a topping of either chicharron (or crispy pork rinds) or coarsely-ground peanuts at this point.
Fish Kinilaw
Enjoy sharply sour, bitingly spicy and indulgently coco-milky Filipino Fish Kinilaw with a little peace of mind, wink.

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