It’s always hard to top something I have called “the best” before… but it is possible. Regulars of the blog know I have featured kinilaw na tanguigue (seviche of spanish mackerel) in previous posts, and at least 50-70 MM regulars have actually tasted our “best version” at both the Cebu eyeball 2 or 3 years ago and other meals. I posted the recipe with detailed instructions here. that recipe has remained our house standard until a few days ago, when I decided to try and tinker with it, and created a variation that may have topped what was previously thought to be “the best”… :)
At the Nasugbu market, we spotted a reasonably fresh whole tanguigue. It wasn’t as fresh as the one we used in Cebu for the eyeball, but maybe 3-5 hours older. I try not to buy tanguigue for kinilaw unless I see the whole fish first, then buy the entire fish, or in this case, just half of it. The vendor made quick work of filleting the fish, and two minutes later, I had nice pieces of totally cleaned tanguigue meat. I purchased all the other ingredients we would need including beautiful native tomatoes, chilies, etc.
Back at home, we made coconut cream with less vinegar than usual, resulting in a REALLY thick and rich cream. We also made a second pressing of coconut milk to modulate the overall sauce. I proceeded with the original recipe as described in the link above, but played with the consistency of the sauce until it was a little thicker than usual, but the coconut did not overwhelm the vinegar or the other ingredients. We happened to have dayaps on hand so that was squeezed into the mixture. But at the last minute, I decided to chop up some homemade pickled ginger that we had in the fridge and added it to one bowl of kinilaw (we made several bowls worth). This was the “secret ingredient” and let me tell you, the kinilaw was amazing… The pickled ginger gave it that certain something, that many at the table wouldn’t have picked without serious thought, and it brought a touch of sharpness and sweetness at the same time. YUM. So while this isn’t a huge change from our original recipe, I can tell you its the first time I have ever thought to put pickled ginger in a kinilaw and I will definitely be doing it again.
As with any good dish with basic ingredients, the quality of each ingredient and the balance of flavors is the key to success. You may have to try this several times before you get a version YOU feel is the best for you and your family. But once you figure that out, I suspect you will NEVER order this dish at a restaurant again. Let me reiterate some key points. The fish MUST be reef-fresh. Use a wickedly sharp knife to cut the fish and other ingredients. If anal, chill your bowls and fish a bit before starting to assemble the dish. Make the dish minutes before eating it. Do NOT chill the kinilaw in the fridge for more than 5 minutes. In fact, just don’t put it in the fridge at all after you make it. Eat the kinilaw while the fish is still a bit translucent and not hard and completely opaque. Keep tasting your sauce mixture to correct for balance. Don’t forget to salt well but not overwhelm. I have converted many a guest who claimed to be averse to “raw fish” with this dish. And nearly every single foreigner we have served this to has been pleased as punch. To me, a well-prepared kinilaw is the PERFECT starter to a meal with lechon and other pinoy favorites.
Some other kinilaw posts:
Kinilaw at Cafe Elysa, Parian Cebu
Full Menu of the No Reservations Philippines episode featuring a Cebu Lunch with Anthony Bourdain
Kinilaw na Dilis a la Seaman / Anchovy Seviche
Kinilaw na Malasugui / Swordfish Seviche
Kinilaw na Malasugui, CDO Style
Kinilaw na Guso at Lato / Seaweed Salads