I had never cooked sinaing or pinangat na tulingan before this attempt. But a search through some old posts of mine, associated reader comments, and the help of some locals in Nasugbu, Batangas meant I felt confident enough to at least give it a go. We didn’t grow up eating much sinaing or pinangat, but I viewed it to be a close cousin of paksiw na isda (in its many forms), so how different could it be? First of all, an interesting observation… while many people call this dish “sinaing na tulingan”… locals in Nasugbu said they always called this “pinangat na tulingan” which, for me, conjures images of “pinangat” from Bicol that has taro leaves, shrimps and coconut cream…
First, the proper tool(s). I had to purchase a new black palayok in the Nasugbu market. I am usually wary of the black palayoks, as you never know what they painted on to make them black. I don’t think they are naturally fired to a black finish. I then cleaned it out, boiled some water and vinegar in it for half an hour and did that again to “season” the pot. Now, to the ingredients. I decided to get BOTH fresh and DRIED kamias (iba or belimbi), chopped up some locally made (not iodized) rock salt, cracked black peppercorns, sliced ginger (some use this, some don’t), very fresh small tulingan fish, light green mild finger chilies, banana leaves and some strips of pork back fat (in the absence of pure lard).
Prep the fish. First, dock the tail (cut it off, why isn’t there an equivalent word to decapitate for the tail?! — could it be debuttitate?) and slit the fish with a sharp knife along the sides…
…then use the heel of your palm to flatten the fish a bit. I suspect this is partially to get the braising liquid closer to the bones, which soften after cooking.
Place each fish on a piece of banana leaf, season with some salt and pepper and add a slice of fresh kamias and one dried kamias and roll it up.
Into the bottom of the palayok add some lard or strips of back fat or leaf fat and fresh and dried kamias and start adding the individually wrapped fish.
After one layer, our pot fit four individually wrapped fish, add some ginger, kamias, salt pepper and sliced finger chilies and add on another layer. This medium sized palayok took about 1 kilo of fish or roughly 7-8 pieces.
Fill the palayok with water and place a large piece of banana leaf under the cover so that the steam doesn’t escape too quickly.
Prepare your wood or charcoal fire, here in the snazzy new barbecue we just finished building at the beach.
Bring pot to a boil, lower the heat and simmer the fish for say 2-2.5 hours or so. Watch it closely after an hour or so and if the liquid seems to be a bit too low, add some water.
You want about a cup or so of liquid when you finish, and some folks call this flavorful reduction “patis” and it is quite tasty and pungent.
Ours was sour, salty and filled with natural umami.
I was told that the sinning is BETTER the longer you leave it soaking in the remaining liquid, or aging it in the fridge and re-heating the following day. We couldn’t resist, so we unwrapped the fish and this is what it looked like fresh out of the palayok.
The bones were quite pliable, almost soft, but I still removed them from this photo. I am told some locals like to eat the fish and bones and all… The flesh was steeped in a nicely sour and salty flavor that was a step or two beyond a simple and quick paksiw with vinegar or kamias. The oily fish had a LOT of flavor, and it was a really nice pot of sinaing, if I say so myself. But the locals who ate it also gave it two thumbs up, a real vote of confidence from folks who have been cooking this for decades…
…and later that day, we deep fried the fish in vegetable oil (didn’t have lard or I would have used that) and I have to say, I liked it even better this way!
Dipped into a some fish sauce with kalamansi and chopped chili, this was simple comfort food heaven!