Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Mixed Bag of Fish from Sri Lankan Waters 2

As I have posted earlier, a mixed bag of fresh fish from the rich waters of the tiny but beautiful island of Sri Lanka is what I will find every time I’ll make a short trip to the coastal road of the southwestern region where numerous roadside stalls selling newly caught fish are lining up. Just like what I said in my first post about this subject matter here, fresh catch from local fishermen is my usual focus of attention rather than those caught by commercial fishing vessels. Obviously because the fish were taken using hook and line which happen to be the same concept of Angling or Sportfishing, one of my favorite outdoor sports.

This time, my find includes a gorgeous grouper locally known as “garupa” and popularly called “lapu-lapu” in the Philippines, a striking pink king soldier bream locally known as “thiraliya” and known as “bitilya” or “malakapas” in Filipino and a silvery shining bullet tuna locally called “eli-choorai” and called “aloy” and sometimes “tulingan” (though there is a really different "tulingan" variety) in the Philippines. These fish all taste great and can be made into sumptuous dishes.

Bullet tuna is a comparatively small and slender tuna that belongs to the subspecies of tuna in the family “Scombridae”. It is found globally in open surface waters of tropical oceans to depths of about 50 meters. It can grow to a maximum length of about 50 cm and colored blue-black on the back with a pattern of zig-zag dark markings on the upper hind body and silver below. They feed on small fish, squid, mantis shrimp larvae and planktonic crustaceans.

King soldier bream or picnic sea bream are fish belonging to Sparidae family. I had featured this fish before in my pot about “Steamed Fish in Soy Sauce”. Sea breams generally live in shallow temperate waters and are bottom-dwelling carnivores. They like coastal sandy or muddy areas and usually feeds on benthic invertebrates. Most species possess grinding, molar-like teeth and they can grow up to 75 cm.

Grouper is an important fish in many Southeast Asian countries and China. In the Philippines and other parts of Southeast Asia, several varieties of grouper are now being cultivated for commercial distribution. It is considered a first class fish in Hong Kong and Macau and is usually kept in aerated aquarium and solve alive.

The word "grouper" is widely believed to have come from the Portuguese name “garoupa”. In Australia, the name "groper" is used instead of "grouper" for several species, such as the Queensland groper. In the Middle East, the fish is known as “hammour” and is widely eaten, especially in the Persian Gulf region. In the United States, grouper are often found in waters off Florida.

Since I will be posting an important and quite valued dish in Southeast Asia and China called “Steamed Grouper in Soy Sauce” very soon, with an intension to provide details and important information about the fish, I will not provide further details here. Let me just mention that this fish though not quite popular in many countries, including Sri Lanka where it is cheaper than other ordinary fish is among the most delicious fish for me.

You can cook it sweet and sour style, fillet and fried, stewed with vegetable like in “pesa” or cooked in tamarind like in “sinigang” and of course, steamed, in many variations, all delicious but my favorite of which is in soy sauce. c",)

Monday, February 22, 2010

Crispy Ulo ng Baboy (Crispy Deep Fried Pork Head)

The Philippines loves pork. While there are Filipinos who do not eat pork due to religious affiliation, medical condition or health consideration, majority of Filipinos eat a lot of pork. True, the Philippines have a strong affection with the tasty meat. In fact, the Southeast Asian agricultural nation with about 90 million people has an annual per capita pork consumption of about 15 kilograms. This does not include the use of offal and processed meat which are also quite popular and therefore have significant figures as well.

With a 3.5 billion USD hog industry, the Philippines swine total inventory in 2008 was estimated at 13.7 million head. With such a great number of swine that will eventually end in the market as pork, you could imagine the requirement for a dish which makes good use of the pork head meat; which is rather considered a lesser sought-after pork part, has little usage in both the Filipino and International cuisines and not widely eaten by the majority of population.

Taking advantage of the lesser demand and therefore abundance in the market which results to a relatively cheap price, creating a dish that will make use of pork head has become a challenge to some enterprising Filipinos. Aside from the “Lechon sa Hurno”, “Dinuguan” and “Sisig Pampanga” which I all prepared using pork head, the “Crispy Ulo ng Baboy” or simply “Crispy Ulo”, which is basically a pork head boiled until tender and then deep fried until crispy, was created sometime ago and became a hit to the masses.

It is actually a variation of the popular Filipino dish “Crispy Pata” or crispy deep fried pork hock or hind. Likewise, the dish is also similar to “Litson Kawali” or crispy deep fried pork belly which I recently posted here. It can be considered as quite sinful, loaded with calories and fat but utterly delicious. Its unique taste can make one forget about diet. True. :-)

To re-create the dish which now lined up in the roadside stores and kiosk of Manila and key cities of the Philippines, we shall need half a head of pork or about 3 kilograms like the one I used in roasting “Lechon Sa Hurno”. The whole meat should be thoroughly and meticulously cleaned especially the snout part. Then, cut it into two large pieces for easy handling and cooking.

To infuse flavor and enhance the taste of the meat while boiling to fork tender, we need 8 gloves garlic, peeled and smashed, 2 medium onions, quartered, 1 large carrot, peeled and quartered, 1 pc celery roots (or 2 stalks celery), cleaned, 1 pc leek, cut to 2-inch lengths, 2 pcs bay leaves, 1 tbsp salt or to taste, 1 tbsp whole pepper and enough water or better yet beef broth to cover.

Place the pork head in a large, heavy casserole and cover with enough water or beef broth, if you have. Let the liquid boil on high heat. Scoop out the scum that will rise during the initial boiling stage. This is quite important. When the broth is cleared of scum, adjust the heat to low and add all the ingredients mentioned above and continue simmering on low heat.

Simmer until the pork is just tender. The meat should be tender but the skin and fat should still be firmed enough to allow nice blistering when deep frying. Flip the pork head pieces half way to ensure even cooking. This will take about 1 ½ hours to 2 hours. Add some water if necessary, to maintain the level, 1 cup at a time, hot if possible.

When the meat is fork tender remove it from the broth, drain and allow cooling. Filter the broth and set aside. We are using pork head so expect the broth to contain a lot of oil on the surface. Scoop out the oil that floats and set aside for later use, only if you like. If you are appalled by animal fat, you can discard it. I don’t.

When the meat has cooled and slightly dried up, wrap and freeze it. It will yield better result if frozen first before frying up. But before frying, it must be thawed and kept at room temperature. You can also cut it into several smaller slabs for easy frying.

To fry, like “Litson Kawali”, just heat enough oil in a large “kawali” or deep frying pan. Deep fry the pork head slabs in batches until the skin is golden brown and crispy. Let the meat cool on normal room temperature. Afterwards, fry it again to blister the skin real nice and extra crisp. Observe extra care and proper precautions during deep frying. The large amount of oil on a very high temperature is not something we should messed with. Cook until you have this:

To serve, chop the crispy meat into bite sizes. A quick chopping action of a heavy sharp knife is all that is needed to avoid crushing the crispy skin. Prepare your steamed rice and favorite dipping sauce. I served this with spiced natural vinegar dip with garlic, chili, salt, pepper and small amount of sugar. So good! :-)

As an alternative, you can use the crispy pork head along with some other ingredients to prepare another wonderful dish called “Sisig Pampanga” with the recipe posted here. I made some and serve it on a sizzling plate with an egg.

There it is! “Crispy Ulo” which you can enjoy in two-ways. Truly delicious! c“,)

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Nachos - Nacho Cheese & Fresh Salsa Tortillas

Nachos refers to the popular corn-based food that was credited to Mr. Ignacio “Nacho” Andaya of Coahuila, Mexico for concocting tortilla chips locally called “totopos” covered with melted cheddar cheese and pickled jalapeno peppers and serving it as a snack. Just like many surprising food creations, he invented the dish out of necessity when he needed to serve snacks with very limited ingredients at hand to a group of about a dozen US soldiers at Piedras Negras City, just over the Texas border. He called the dish “Nachos Especiales” which means Nacho’s special dish in English. The popularity of the dish quickly spread throughout Texas and later on all over United States and Mexico, earning nachos a special place in the Tex-Mex cuisine.

While nachos are originally created as a quick snack, it can be made into a full meal by just adding many more ingredients such as chicken or beef meat, refry beans, many types of vegetables and fresh or cooked salsa. Nachos with an abundance of toppings are sometimes called "loaded nachos" or "super nachos". This type of dish is usually served as an appetizer at bars or restaurants and considered a really big meal. The dish is prepared by arranging the tortilla chips on a big platter, adding the meat and refried bean toppings and smothering the entire platter with shredded cheese. The platter is then put into a broiler or microwave to allow the cheese to melt. The platter is then covered with cold toppings such as shredded lettuce, tomatoes, salsa, jalapeƱos, etc. and served at once.

The other week, we bought a large pack of good quality tortilla chips. In order to serve it to our group better than with just a simple cream dip, I decided to prepare a fresh salsa and home-made nacho cheese to make our own nachos which could go well with our favorite drinks.

The first thing to do is to cook the “nacho cheese”, which is a form of processed cheese mixed with peppers and other spices and often used in place of freshly shredded cheese in a large-scale production settings, such as schools and universities, shopping malls, movie theaters, sports venues, carnivals, nature parks and theme parks. Such processed cheese, referred to in the US as "nacho cheese", provides a relatively cheaper and more convenient source of cheese to top nachos.

While there are many recipes of “nacho cheese’” ranging from simple to very complicated ones involving many ingredients, I decided to make a relatively easy nacho cheese which can be easily done by anyone, after all, Mr. Nacho Andaya concoct the dish in a very simple form.

The ingredients needed for an easy- no fuss nacho cheese, as shown above, are: 2 tbsp butter, 2 tbsp all-purpose flour, 1 cup fresh milk, 3/4 cup cheddar cheese, to be diced and ½ tsp salt. To cook it is likewise very simple. In a thick sauce pan melt the butter over low flame. Add the flour and stir to mix evenly. Then add the milk and continue cooking with regular stirring until it has a thick and creamy consistency.

Add the diced cheese and continue cooking until all has melted. Add salt and continue stirring until all ingredients are well blended. It’s done.

Transfer in a deep bowl, let it cool and do the salsa. Secretly, you can also dip your finger and have an advance taste of the wonderful nacho cheese. Just don’t let anyone see you. :-)

For the fresh tomato salsa, we need the following ingredients: 3 pcs plum and firm tomatoes, 1 medium onion, a bunch of fresh flat leaf parsley or cilantro, 1 medium lime, 2 mild chilies (I don’t have jalapeno or serrano chili peppers), some iodized salt and ground pepper (optional) to taste.

To prepare, finely dice the tomatoes and onion. Remove the rib, stems and seeds of the chilies and finely dice as well. Extract the juice of the lime. Remove the stem and finely chop the cilantro.

In a mixing bowl, dump the diced tomatoes, chilies and onion. Stir to mix evenly. Add the cilantro and continue mixing. Add the lime juice and seasoned with salt and pepper.

Transfer in a bowl and keep inside the fridge for about 30 minutes for the taste to fully develop.

In the meantime, prepare your tortilla chips. When it’s time to serve, arrange the chips in a large serving plate. Top with the fresh tomato salsa then with lots of the nacho cheese. That’s it…..Enjoy! Our group munched this while watching an action movie over some light drinks.

Make your own nacho cheese and fresh salsa……… enjoy the wonderful nachos made right in the comfort of your own kitchen. My better half love this so much, especially the huge and heavy “loaded nachos”. c“,)

Friday, February 12, 2010

Shore Fishing at Bonnavista (Roumasalla) in Sri Lanka

It has been a while since I last visited the Playground - the exciting fishing site I discovered mid of last year somewhere beside the protected diverse reef area of Bonnavista or Roumasalla, Galle City in Sri Lanka. The adventure I experienced there was in fact the subject of the first post, in two parts, of this blog entitled “Shore Fishing Under the Rain” Part 1 and Part 2. While I have returned to the Playground several times after that discovery, the prevailing monsoon period, that actually lasted until mid of December 2009, created huge and unforgiving waves that made the fishing site quite unsafe. I also posted one of the unproductive fishing trips under “Natures Way of Maintaining the Balance”.

Since it is already fishing season in the Southwestern Sri Lanka, the first thing I wanted to do since I returned from my short Christmas Holiday in the Philippines was to revisit the Playground. Last week, we had the opportunity to do it so I asked Rene, a new friend who prepared the “Kinilaw na Tanigue” I recently posted, who incidentally, also has a fascination with sport fishing and who loves fish a lot, to join me in the adventure. The plan was to leave our place early so that before the morning breaks, we are already wetting our lines. Fish are usually eating during that period so it is considered among the best times to fish. We intend to only fish until before noon, probably up to 10 am, to avoid the intense heat of the sun.

We arrived in the area quite early. It was still dark when we left our vehicle to hike down the scrub towards the shoreline. As always, the view of the place that appeared before us was magnificent. It is an untainted beauty of nature in its innate form. The place is really a natural refuge for the outdoorsman.

We immediately positioned ourselves in the Playground. We prepared our gears and tackles. We don’t want to waste any time as the crystal blue sea was serenely inviting. In a short time, Rene and our local friends were already casting shelled shrimp-baited hooks. I decided to try my luck popping and casting shallow diving lures.

Casting lures did not make any progress. I had no strike even after trying different colors and types of artificial baits. I decided to join Rene and our driver and focused my attention to the reef fishes using chunks of shrimps and squid. Whilst we have been feeling a lot of bites and actually seeing school of fish swimming around in front of us, we were unable to hook any fish. As suggested by Rene, we decided to use smaller hooks and it paid off. Rene was so delighted to have the first catch of the day - a tasty spinefoot or “samaral” or “kitong” as known in the Southern Philippines. Quite luckily, he also had the second catch of a colorful wrasse or “mameng”.

Our driver also managed to land one “kitong” that he hooked in the body and not in the mouth. :-) Only confirming there were lots of fish playing around. After more than an hour these were our modest catch but I still yet to get my first fish.

I persisted. Getting skunked is not part of the plan. Whilst we were having a great time and enjoying every moment even when the fish were seemingly outsmarting us and consistently able to steal the shrimp and squid baits without getting hooked, I am determined to catch fish. Badly! Finally, my prayers were answered, I landed my first catch…….bigger than the previous catch of Rene and our driver. The same “kitong” fish who’s probably among the school of fish feasting on our baits. :-)

And then it was catching time. I managed to catch several more fishes. Even a sharp toothed “papakol” or trigger fish was landed. The great time just became a grand time. And we were overjoyed and extremely satisfied. :-)

Just before we call it a day by around 10 am, Rene got a massive full from his rod. The hook and line easily gave to the fish but Rene saw the big fish just before it swam back to the rock. As Rene changes his terminal tackle, I immediately casted to where the fish was last seen and waited for a while. It did not take long before I hooked the same huge fish. It was very heavy, colored brown which I initially thought was a grouper of about 3-4 kilos. But my hook, too, was easily cut off. Yes, it was the hook that was cut by what seem to be a steel toothed fish. I was dumbfounded to see the remnants of my hook. Definitely it’s not a grouper.

I changed tackle and attached a steel line with a swivel in the end. In the swivel I attached a 1/0 hook and baited a large piece of squid. I immediately casted it to the same spot. The same stubborn brown fish took my offerings. I was happy and said to myself you are mine now. The fish was so massive, not really a ferocious fighter but very heavy. I was able to bring it up the surface to finally see it. It was a fierce looking not so handsome fish with a square jaw….a burrfish, probably birdbeak. It is known as the type of “butete” that can be eaten. In Samar where Rene lives, it is called “Tagutungan” and Rene swears it is one delicious fish.

But I was trying hard to land the fish my line snapped and the fish was again free in the water. I checked my terminal tackle to find out that my 1/0 hook was cut. The fish’s teeth are probably sharper than my long nose. As I changed my terminal tackle again, Rene casted his line with relatively smaller hook on a mono leader. The hungry fish again bit the offering and was at the end of Rene’s line.

Rene took his time; slowly he dragged the then already exhausted fish close to the shoreline. Rene’s intention was to tire the fish and carefully lift it by hand from the water. How I wish I have gaff that very moment. Our driver eagerly helped Rene. We saw the fish almost gasping for air, trying to catch his last breath, as it was kept afloat the surface. Everyone was already excited, but our driver made a terrible mistake, instead of reaching out to the fish to grab and lift it, he pulled the line which once again was broken by the sharp teeth of the burrfish. And the fish slowly swam back to freedom.

We again tried casting several times in the hope of hooking the fish once more, but it was nowhere to be found. Probably after that near-death encounter it had, it decided to keep away from our offerings. Even the school of spinefoot fishes or “kitong” was gone. Since it was already past 10 in the morning and the heat of the sun was starting to hit us, we decided to call it a day. With several tasty spinefoot fish or “samaral” or “kitong” in the bag, we already had a fine catch.

Before leaving the place we decided to eat our lunch first. The struggle with the burrfish likewise exhausted us somehow and we needed to load some food to regain our strength. What could be better than with steamed jasmine rice and a rich “humba” which I cooked the night before? And we ate whilst enjoying the scenic view of the Playground.

On the way to our vehicle, we once again enjoy the breathtaking view of the shoreline from the top. Can be seen from our vantage point was the Playground from the other side of the shore. It is really a gorgeous place.

As we continued our trek towards our vehicle, we were already planning our return. The season will end by mid of April and we need to comeback whenever we have time. We only have 2 months to enjoy the Playground until the season ends and massive waves pound the place.

For all I know, the school of “kitong” or spinefoot and probably the burrfish will also be waiting for us for the fun to continue. c“,)


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