Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Tortang Alimasag (Crab Omelette or Crab Frittata)

Almost all members of our group (Filipinos working on an Expressway project here in Sri Lanka) like eating crab very much. Since “alimasag” or blue crab is sold here at a rather reasonable price, it has become a regular table fare on our weekends which we usually cooked as “Steamed Alimasag” or like last Saturday's “Ginataang Alimasag”. Sometimes we over-buy the tasty crustaceans that at least a member has 2 large pieces in a meal. Because 2 fat crabs are quite too much for me, I usually reserve the claws or chelae (“sipit”) for another dish often as soup or “torta” (omelet) for breakfast the next morning.

First, let me clear some information I provided before about “alimasag” or blue crab which is the type of sea crab found in the Philippine and Sri Lankan waters. Technically, “alimasag” belonging to the species “Portunus pelagicus” is called blue swimming crab in English. It is also called blue manna crab, sand crab, horse crab and yes, blue crab. So my referral to blue crab when I mentioned “alimasag” is also correct. However, I wish to make this clarification to avoid ambiguity with the more popular blue crab belonging to the species “Callinectes sapidus” and found in the waters of some Western countries. While the two types of crab share many common characteristics, they also possess obvious differences like the pattern in their shells.

Since we shall be cooking “Tortang Alimasag” and we have already elucidated the word “alimasag” as referring to a type of blue crab, allow me to offer another disambiguation on the word “torta”. “Torta” in the Philippine context refers to a kind of Filipino omelet. It is different from the “torta” of Mexico which refers to a particular type of sandwich and the “torta” of many European countries which refers to a special type of layered cake with fillings.

Last Saturday, we believe our group has over indulged in “alimasag” because apart from the “Ginataan” I prepared, we also have some crabs simply cooked as “Steamed”. :-)

As expected I was not able to consume my entire share and I kept the big claws in the freezer. For about 3 sets of chelae, I was able to collect about a cup of priced crabmeat which I intend to cook as “Tortang Alimasag” or Crab Omelet.

While Philippine “torta” is usually referred to as omelet in English, it is actually more of the Italian frittata than omelet. Unlike omelet, “torta” is not served folded. The eggs are beaten to incorporate and thoroughly mixed with the other ingredients before frying the mixture into round, thick and pancakes-like frittata in small amount of oil.

To cook the dish, we need the following ingredients to complement the about 1 cup of crabmeat: 3 gloves garlic, peeled and minced, 1 small onion, peeled and roughly chopped, 1 large tomato, roughly chopped, ½ tsp salt and ¼ tsp ground pepper, 2 medium eggs and about 4 tbsp oil. These are basic ingredients and you are at liberty to add some other vegetables you love like, mushroom, bell peppers, carrots, chilies, etc. and fresh herbs like flat leaf parsley, green onion, celery, etc.

In a thick pan or wok, heat about 1 tbsp vegetable oil and fry the garlic followed by onion and tomato. While sizzling, add in the crabmeat and continue sautéing. Season it with salt and ground pepper and sauté for several more minutes until everything is cooked through and aromatic.

Transfer the crabmeat mixture in a bowl and let it cool. For the meantime, lightly beat the eggs in another bowl. When the crabmeat mixture has cooled down, mix it with the beaten eggs in a large bowl. Stir lightly to incorporate all ingredients.

In a medium non-stick pan, heat about 1½ tbsp vegetable oil. Fry half of the crab meat mixture until golden brown. Carefully flip over to fry the other side. Drain the cooked omelet or frittata on paper towel. Add about 1½ tbsp oil again and fry the remaining crab meat mixture following the same procedures.

Transfer the cooked “torta” in a wide dish and serve immediately. I particularly like this dish with steamed rice, either for breakfast or lunch. This is good. Enjoy! :-)

“Tortang Alimasag” is probably the most delicious “torta” in the Philippines. Whilst I also love the much simpler “Tortang Talong” or Eggplant Omelet or Frittata, the taste of crabmeat is simply much better. c“,)

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Ginataang Alimasag (Blue Crabs or Sea Crabs Cooked in Coconut Milk)

“Alimasag” or blue crab and sometimes referred to as sea crab, is one of the tastiest decapods crustaceans’ bounties of the sea. The widely eaten crab is native to the western edge of the Atlantic Ocean from Nova Scotia to Argentina and has been introduced to Japanese and European waters as well as other waters of the world through the ballast water (composed of sea water full of stones, sediment and thousands of living species) usually carried by ships in their tanks for stabilization, from the point of origin and released to the point of destination, effectively allowing the introduction of new species to foreign waters.

The easiest and most common way of cooking blue crabs is by simply steaming them until their color turns striking red like in my “Steamed Alimasag” post. The usual way of eating them is in the hard shell. While steaming is very popular, there are more elaborate ways of preparing the crabs into yummy dishes like in my “Alimasag con Sotanghon” post where it was cooked with tasty oyster sauce and glass noodles. Another popular Filipino way of cooking “alimasag”, specially the fat ones or those with eggs, is with coconut milk and some spices.

While eggs of blue crabs are not usually consumed in many Western nations, in Asian cultures, including the Philippines, the eggs and the ovaries of female crabs are eaten alongside the meat. There, it is considered that the best time to catch or purchase crabs is at a time when they are most fertile or when they produce the eggs and at the same time turn the ovaries into a more edible and enlarged orange variety.

The eggs and ovaries, collectively forming what is referred to as the crab fat are called “aligi” in the Philippines and are highly sought-after food item, making the female crab, identified with the rounded apron on the underside, more preferred and expensive than the males, identified with long narrow abdomen. For blue crabs though, males often contain fat too and are also delicious like the females.

Coconut milk is a sweet, creamy, milky white cooking base extracted from the grated meat of a mature coconut. The color and rich taste of the milk can be attributed to the high oil content and sugars of the coconut. In the Philippines coconut milk is called “gata” thus dishes cooked with it is called “ginataan”. Coconut milk is very popular in Southeast and South Asia and called “ga-ti” in Thailand, “santan” in Malaysia, Indonesia and Brunei and “pol kiri” in Sri Lanka.

There are two grades of coconut milk: thick and thin. Thick coconut milk called “kakang gata” in the Philippines is the first extraction milk collected by directly squeezing grated coconut meat through cheesecloth or in between palms. The squeezed coconut meat is then soaked in warm water and squeezed a second or third time to get the thin coconut milk. Thick coconut milk sometimes referred to as coconut cream, is used mainly to make desserts and rich, dry sauces. Thin milk is used for soups and general cooking.

To prepare the “ginataang alimasag”, the major ingredients needed are about a kilo (1,000 grams) of fresh blue crabs, about 4 pieces, thoroughly washed and drained and about 2 cups of good grade coconut milk, both of which are shown above.

The other ingredients needed are as follows: 4 pcs red plum tomatoes, halve, 1 small onion (optional), peeled and chopped, 6 gloves garlic, peeled and crushed, 1 pc thumb-sized ginger, peeled and julienned, 1 pcs chili peppers, seeded and chopped, 2 pcs finger chili , halve, 1 tsp salt or to taste and ½ tsp ground pepper.

Arrange the garlic, ginger, onion, tomatoes and chili peppers on the bottom of a thick casserole. Arrange the crabs on top of the vegetables and spices. Sprinkle salt and ground pepper on top of the crabs and pour the coconut milk. Add in the finger chilies and cook over medium heat.

When the liquid is boiling, lower the heat and continue simmering until the crab is cooked through and has transformed its color into deep red hue. Taste the rich sauce and adjust the seasonings. When the coconut milk sauce is reduced to a creamy consistency and some nice curdling has occurred, it is done. For a creamier and richer dish, just add about ½ cup thick coconut milk or coconut cream at this point and further simmer for 3 to 5 minutes. I usually do this like in my “Ginataang Dalag at Hipon” post but I ran out of coconut cream this time. :-)

Transfer the crabs into a large platter. Arrange the vegetables on top and pour the creamy sauce with all the bits of that tasty curd.

Serve immediately with lots and lots of hot steamed rice. Really yummy! Enjoy!c“,)

Friday, March 26, 2010

Shore Fishing at the Playground in Sri Lanka

The Playground is my self-declared favorite shore fishing location which I found along the natural coastal refuge of Bonnavista, also called Roumasalla, in Galle City of Southern Sri Lanka. The rocky coast is my gateway to the highly guarded and well preserved Bonnavista reef considered as the most diverse coral reel of this tiny but majestic island nation. The fishing spot is thriving with rich marine and aquatic life and home for many sought-after game fishes that can be caught while casting right from the comfort of the coast.

Among the type of fish I have either caught, hooked but not landed, saw or spotted from the rock platform serving as my little angling paradise of sort are several kinds of trevally, barracuda, groupers, rabbit fish or spinefoot, burrfish, trigger fish, parrotfish, wrasse, yellow tail, emperor, mullet, yellow and red snappers, bonefish and some other reef fishes I have yet to or cannot yet identify. Lots of huge fish were also seen roaming the waters from white to silver to blue to brown in color but we failed to entice using shrimp and squid cuts and several types of lures.

Since the last post of my fishing adventure in the Playground entitled “Fun Shore Fishing in Bonnavista (Roumassala) in Sri Lanka”, I have twice returned to the place. The first comeback was quite worrisome because waves were huge and fiercely hitting the shoreline though not as strong as the one we experienced before and posted here. :-)

In constant search of fishing adventures though, I always manage to carry out the passion even in seemingly unforgiving condition. Applying some safely measures and precautions and the fun still went on. After all, we were on the shore and it was less risky even when faced with a rather rough sea. :)

It is really fun shore fishing in the Playground although what we have been catching lately are small to medium sized fishes only. The rabbit fish or “kitong” as called in the Philippines is really a good eating fish which we always look forward to take home for wonderful culinary creation.

For that particular day, our fish were very fresh when they reached our accommodation as they were kept alive during the entire fishing activity by putting them in a small packet of water right on the surface of the rocky coast, probably formed by the huge splash of water the night before, and only taken out when we were about to leave the Playground.

The second return was welcomed with a really tranquil sea. The whether was fine, the water was calm and shore fishing was at its best as far as the condition is concerned.

Whilst we have been catching good eating fishes every time, I am still dreaming of the big catch capable of pumping the adrenaline high like the huge trevally I fought and lost last year. My friend Rene had a good start catching delicious rabbit fish and juvenile grouper.

Hopeful of a massive pull to my rod which would indicate a big catch, I tried casting several types of lures - poppers, shallow divers, swim bait, soft plastic, etc. but still the elusive strike did not happen. Maybe I am doing it the wrong way. I changed to casting chunks of squid to target the small fish schooling the site. Surprisingly, a moderate pull of my rod happened. My reel slightly screamed and I realized I was fighting a nice fish bigger than Rene’s takes. The fight was short and not so intense but has provided the biggest catch of the day.

We caught another small but colorful reef fish, probably a juvenile parrotfish. It’s really strikingly gorgeous but tiny. :-)

Suddenly, the same kind of huge burrfish or “tugatongan” we hooked 5 times before but failed to land, appeared in the water. I immediately changed tackle and attached a wire line and a bigger hook. I baited it with huge piece of squid and casted where the burrfish was seen. After less than a minute I got a bite and saw the big burrfish at the end of my terminal tackle, I slightly jerk the rod tip to properly set the hook but unfortunately I missed setting it right. As I was struggling to put some bait again, the hungry burrfish bit Rene’s offering and he had the chance.

Rene played the fish in an attempt to tire it while thinking of ways on how to lift it from the water using his small line. I must admit that while we are always hoping to catch a big fish, we are ill-equipped to handle such a situation. The surface of the water is about 3 meters below us and we do not have gaff or landing net yet. Both essential gadgets are still under construction in my room.

Our only chance of landing big fish like that one is for the line to hold on and not snap as we are reeling the fish up. The burrfish’ sharp teeth are another problem for the mono leader of Rene. For several minutes, Rene very carefully kept the fish afloat thinking it will eventually die if maintained on the surface for a long time.

Surprisingly, another burrfish approached the hooked fish as if it was trying to offer some help but swam down below the rocks after several seconds. Rene patiently maintained the fish on the surface. But as he was trying to bring the fish to the other side where it was lower, the inevitable happened. The line snapped leaving the hook on the fish’s mouth but once again free. Rene was a bit exhausted and dumbfounded. It was the second time that the burrfish outsmarted us. :-)

It seems the appearance of burrfish drove other fishes away. We found it quite hard to get another bite. Since the sun was then feasting on our rough but sensitive skin, we decided to call it day and return some other time – definitely with either a gaff or landing net or both.

The modest catch and big enjoyment we had were enough reasons to consider our weekend grand. We look forward to another weekend when by that time, we hope to finally outsmart that burrfish. c“,)

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Adobong Lengua at Leeg (Ox Tongue and Chicken Neck Adobo)

As mentioned in both my previous Adobo posts Version 1 and Version 2, you can basically cook anything, meat, seafood and veggies, into the widely regarded Filipino national dish called Adobo. As of this writing, many other variations are probably being created somewhere within the more than 7,100 beautiful islands forming the Philippine archipelago. The endless possibilities in cooking adobo and the strong fascination of the Filipinos to find new ways to enjoy the delicious dish bring about many new variations of the dish. The one I am posting now is my own concoction prepared using ox tongue and chicken neck.

I thought this could be somewhat similar to the already popular Chicken Liver and Gizzard Adobo with the texture of the ox tongue being comparable with that of gizzard. I decided to include the chicken neck to provide that tasty chicken flavor which the ox tongue obviously lacks. It is just a pity that chicken neck here in Sri Lanka is sold without the skin which I believe is the part that is packed with that yummy flavor. On the second thought, maybe it is a blessing in disguise, since it is a common knowledge that chicken skin is so full of unhealthy fat which we don’t want to put into our system. :-)

Ox tongue, called “lengua” in the Philippines, is a wonderful cut of meat which I already cooked into “Asadong Dila or Lengua” sometime before. Once tender, the meat offers a distinct texture and succulence so good that it perks up the taste buds…….. makes you to want more…….. and more……. and more.:-)

Chicken is probably the tastiest poultry meat. It is one of the most eaten meats in the world with almost all parts of the bird being used for food including the neck. While the neck is bony and has less meat, it is very tasty and quite good in dishes prepared with small amount of sauce remaining like adobo.

To cook the dish we need about half a kilo (500 grams) each of both ox tongue and chicken neck, properly washed, drained and cut up to bite sizes.

The other ingredients needed are 2 tbsp vegetable oil, 6 gloves garlic, peeled and crushed, 2 pcs small bay leaves, 1 tsp ground pepper, ¼ cup white vinegar (adjust the amount depending on the type you are using), ¼ cup soy sauce, 1 tsp salt or to taste and about 1 large potato, peeled and cut into serving sizes.

In a large thick pan or wok, heat the oil and fry the garlic and onion. Add in the ox tongue and sauté. Cover and wait for the meat to render its own liquid. Give it a gentle stir and simmer on low heat until the liquid is reduced and meat starts to sizzle in its own fat and aromatic. Add the ground pepper, salt and bay leaves on the sizzling meat in the pan. Continue sautéing for several minutes.

Pour the vinegar and let it boil uncover. Add the soy sauce, lightly stir to blend and continue simmering on low heat. Add hot water when the liquid is drying up, ½ cup at a time.

Continue simmering until the ox tongue is slightly tender. Add in the chicken neck and continue cooking until both meats are just tender. Taste the sauce and adjust the saltiness according to your preference.

Add the potato and simmer further until the potato is cooked through, both meats are fork tender and the sauce is reduced and has a slightly thick consistency.

Transfer in a wide shallow bowl and serve with steaming rice. Some chopped tomatoes or pickled green papaya (“atsara or achara”) on the side will make the dish extra special.

It is amazingly good……a new twist to the familiar Filipino Adobo. Enjoy! c“,)


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