Here is another crack on the popular southern Philippine “tinowa” or “tola” dish using “talakitok” or trevally head. This is basically “tinolang ulo ng talakitok” or fish head stew in lemon grass, tomatoes and chilies. In direct contrast to the first “tinowa” version I posted earlier, where I used a combination of small and juvenile fishes, this time it is prepared using just the head of a huge trevally fish weighing more than 15 kilograms. The fish is rather a big game by any angling standard and catching one is a dream to most sportfishing enthusiasts like me.
With this size of fish, expect the head, about 1.5 kilograms, to have an entirely different texture of its succulent and tasty flesh that can be found around its huge head bones. The soft and slimy but utterly delicious meat provides a wonderful eating experience for the initiated. The juicy eye and jaw sections in particular, are top favorites by most of us. While the use of fish head in the dish could be considered unusual and most likely not so appreciated in the West, in most Asian cuisines, this is, in fact special and usually served to the most important member or guest.
A stew dish with thin soup flavored by lemon grass and chilies, “tinowa” or “tola” can be considered an ideal way to cook fish head. Apart from making preparation of the head very easy and using quite limited ingredients, the resulting soup is very tasty. For me, this is far better than when using slices of the fish body. Like in “sinigang”, the soup of the dish is so comforting, soothing and rejuvenating.
To cook, the head should be properly gutted, scaled and washed. All traces of blood should be removed. It is then chopped to serving sizes, about 2 inches square or a bit smaller, washed several times and then drained thoroughly.
As mentioned before, the process of cooking the dish is quick and easy. The few basic ingredients needed are: 1 big stalk of lemon grass or “tanglad” or “salay”, 2 pcs tomatoes, chopped, 2 small onions, chopped, 4 pcs finger chilies, 2 pcs green chili peppers, 1 pc leek, cut to 2-inch lengths, several leaves of Chinese cabbage, halve. Also needed but not shown here are: 1 calamondin or lime to be squeezed later to the already cooked dish as well as about 1 tbsp or to taste salt and MSG, only if you like, to season the dish.
As usual, cooking “tinowa” is straight forward and easy. Our colleague Rene from Southern Leyte, Philippines does it in only about 10 minutes. First, fill the casserole or pan with about 8 cups of water. Place the finger chilies and allow the liquid to boil. Add the fish head slices in the boiling water and let it boil again.
Add the Chinese cabbage followed by the lemon grass. Season it with salt and MSG, if using. Then, add the rest of the ingredients and continue cooking.
Simmer with the lid on for further several minutes. Make final adjustment to the seasoning. Turn the heat off, squeeze 1 “calamondin” or lime juice, put the lid back on and wait for about 3-5 minutes before serving. Transfer in shallow bowl and serve piping hot with lots of steamed rice.
The dish, along with some fried slices of the same trevally and fried dried squid especially brought by Rene from his hometown in the Southern Leyte, we were provided with a very sumptuous meal. It is light but truly satisfying. :-)
Try this healthy and soul-comforting fish soup dish. If you are not into eating fish head, then use the body part. I know you will enjoy it as much as we do. c“,)