How to Make Kinilaw
Filipino kinilaw is analogous to South American ceviche and European rollmops; it’s also a dish based on fresh seafood cured in food acid. Kinilaw na tuna, and its oyster-based variation, kilawing talabem, are quick-cured dishes that use vinegar and citrus juice to “cook” the seafood. Traditional kinilaw calls for several Southeast Asian ingredients, most of which you can find in any well-stocked ethnic market.
Seafood and Freshness
Kinilaw typically calls for tuna although a few variations use oysters. You can use any seafood for kinilaw, however, if it’s at the peak of freshness. You get the freshest yellowfin and albacore — both prime choices for kinilaw — during summer months, but purchase the fish from a fishmonger who slices to order.
Select bright tuna — yellowfin has a red hue, like beef, and albacore is usually pink, like pork — with no dry spots or smell. If making kilawing talaba, buy fresh oysters and shuck them as needed right before preparing the dish. If using tuna steaks, slice them into 3/4-inch cubes; if using oysters, give them a rough chop. Transfer the seafood to a mixing bowl.
Although there isn’t a precise ratio of food acid to seafood to follow to cure fish, use just enough acid to coat each piece. As a general guideline, use about 1 cup of acid for every 1/2 pound of seafood.
Kinilaw traditionally uses coconut vinegar and juice from calamansi — commonly known as Chinese orange — but you can use any sour citrus fruit. Add enough food acid to the seafood and gently mix it to coat each piece. Marinate the seafood in the refrigerator for about two hours; if using oysters, marinate them for only 15 minutes.
Prep the aromatic ingredients, such as thinly sliced red onions, crushed garlic, chili peppers, bell peppers and a scant amount of grated ginger, while the seafood marinates.
Unlike ceviche, you add the aromatics after the seafood cures because of the long marinating time. Drain the seafood and add the aromatics and enough coconut cream to smooth out the tartness. You need about 1 cup each of aromatics and coconut cream per 1/2 pound of seafood.
After mixing the aromatics and coconut cream with the seafood, season to taste with kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper. Give the dish about 20 to 30 minutes more in the refrigerator so the flavors have time to meld.
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