Is a South American ceviche markedly different from our own kinilaw? In many respects, they are similar, but I think there are some differences that make them distinct from each other. Many people feel that our own kinilaw may have been influenced by the arrival of the Spaniards, or more accurately, Mexicans and South Americans when the Philippines was a Spanish colony. However, Doreen Fernandez offers up some evidence that we were probably making our own kinilaw long before the Spaniards arrived, mostly with the finding in some ancient caves of remnants of tabon-tabon, and fish bones, two key ingredients for kinilaw on the island of Mindanao. Personally, the logic of munching on just caught, near sushi-like or grade fish, cleaned and sliced on one’s banca bobbing somewhere in the Philippine archipelago, possibly with a dip in coconut vinegar and perhaps a sprinkling of local sea salt is a scene I can easily see going back hundreds of years… With some good fish on hand, I decided to make BOTH a ceviche and a kinilaw to see how they compared with each other…
The first prized “catch” was a rather smallish (say 2 kilo or so) baby yellowfin tuna at the Nasugbu market. The more common tulingan is plentifual on most market days, but every once in a while, a yellowfin tuna or two is available and they make excellent sushi or kinilaw, so I thought I would use this for my ceviche. I struggled a bit with the filleting, but this is the result of some sweat and a bit of cursing… :)
The meat of yellowfin tuna is paler than that of other tunas, and you must avoid the dark vein and bones near the center of the fillet. I eventually sliced the tuna and the fillet yielded a small plate of fish, trimmings reserved for a soup made with the head and other parts of the fish.
Chill the sliced fish while you get the rest of the ingredients ready.
Next up, I sliced a beautiful riot of colorful tomatoes, from Toscana Farms, Malipayon Farms and other sources. I get inspired and excited when there is a LOT of produce in the kitchen, and this little plate of sliced tomatoes not only photographed well, they tasted terrific!
The next critical ingredient for the ceviche were limes, and lots of them. This is perhaps the single hardest ingredient to find in Manila or elsewhere (except perhaps the Cagayan Valley up North and parts of Mindanao down South… I buy dayap whenever I find them in markets, and wish farmers would grow them in droves and consumers would use them frequently so that we would have a steady supply. I am a bit ashamed to say that I bought a net bag with some 20-25 limes imported from Mexico from S&R, for some ridiculous price, because I NEEDED to have limes for the photo shoot at the beach. But at least many of them ended up being used in this ceviche experiment. Even the Mexican sourced limes didn’t have enough juice however, so I wished I had access to the bigger western limes as well. At any rate, lime is critical… not lemon, not kalamansi, but the distinct flavor and aroma of green limes.
To make the ceviche marinating liquid I added some minced garlic to a bowl, lots of lime juice, salt, sliced chillies, shallots and tomatoes and let their flavors swim together for a while. Then I added the liquid to the fish (and there wasn’t quite enough of the lime concoction) and let this all cuddle for a while. Most recipes for ceviche suggest marinating the dish for at least an hour, so that the fish is truly and well “cooked” or pickled by the lime juice. Remember this point when I write about the kinilaw I made at about the same time at the beach… I didn’t quite wait the full hour but I did let this marinate for much longer than we would ever do with our house kinilaw…
To serve, I garnished with some thin lime slices and topped it all off with some of Gejo’s cilantro microgreens. I thought the dish looked spectacular. And it tasted very, very good as well. The lime juice provided a nice acidic punch filled with flavor and aroma, while the tomatoes and other ingredients provided texture and some sweetness and spiciness. If anything, the ceviche didn’t have enough lime juice, and versions in Latin America might have this “swimming” in dressing or the marinade. But maybe it’s just a bit of national pride/what I grew up with, but I like our house version of kinilaw more. :)