In the Philippines, kinilaw is a traditional dish that can be made using raw seafood or meat. The ingredients vary from region to region but the process is similar to preparing ceviche. Native vinegars, calmansi and other sour fruit juices are used to break down the protein fibers in a process that “cooks” the ingredients called denaturing.
Chef Chad Valencia of LASA, a weekly pop-up in Unit 120 in Chinatown’s Far East Plaza, briefly cures his red snapper fillets in a mixture of salt, sugar and lemon zest. He then seasons the slices of snapper, fresh plums and lemon cucumbers with a drizzle of shallot-infused Ilocano vinegar made from sugarcane to bring out the subtle sweetness of the fish. To finish his “Pinoy-California” red snapper kinilaw, Valencia adds a few dabs of fermented Fresno chile pepper purée and crispy shallots.
LASA’S RED SNAPPER KINILAW
Yield: Makes 4 servings
Cured Red Snapper fillets (recipe follows)
Seasoned Ilocano Sugarcane Vinegar (recipe follows)
Fermented Fresno Chile Pepper Purée (recipe follows)
3 shallots, thinly shaved
1 lemon cucumber, thinly sliced (Persian or Japanese cucumbers will also do)
1 plum, thinly sliced (preferably a sweet, tart variety)
1 qt canola, vegetable or rice oil, for frying
Extra-virgin olive oil, to taste
Kosher salt, to taste
Maldon salt or any other good “crunchy” sea salt, to taste
Crisp the shallots: Heat canola oil in a heavy-bottom pot until it reaches 295ºF. Slowly shake in the shaved shallots and fry them until golden and crispy. Strain the fried shallots using a spider and transfer them to a paper towel-lined plate or pan. Season with salt, to taste. Reserve and set aside.
For the kinilaw: Slice the Cured Red Snapper fillets in sashimi fashion. Each slice should weigh 3 to 4 ounces. On each plate, arrange 4 slices of snapper in a crescent shape. Use your fingers to give visual height and shape to the slices.
Working with the structure of the snapper, tuck in alternating slices of cucumber and plum between each piece of fish, about 4 to 5 slices of each per plate. (See the Kinilaw photo above.)
Next, drizzle about 1 ounce of the Seasoned Ilocano Sugarcane Vinegar over the crescent shape. Follow with a very light drizzle of olive oil.
To serve: Finish with a light sprinkling of Maldon salt over each piece of snapper. Add 3 dime-sized dots of the Fermented Fresno Chile Pepper Purée to the plate and sprinkle the crispy shallots over the kinilaw crescent. ENJOY! KAIN NA TAYO!!
CURED RED SNAPPER
1 lb fresh red snapper fillets
200 g Kosher salt
300 g granulated sugar
3 lemons, zested
Clean the snapper fillets. Pat dry and set aside.
Next, combine the salt, sugar and lemon zest in a bowl and mix to incorporate.
In a large glass baking pan, arrange the fillets side-by-side in a single layer, then sprinkle with a generous layer of the salt curing mixture. Add a second layer of fillets, followed by another layer of the curing mixture. Repeat and continue until each layer of fillets has been covered with the salt curing mixture (like lasagna). Transfer to the refrigerator to cure for 30 minutes.
Afterwards, rinse the cured snapper fillets and pat dry. Wrap each fillet separately in plastic wrap and refrigerate once more until you’re ready to assemble the rest of the kinilaw.
SEASONED ILOCANO SUGARCANE VINEGAR
Chef Chad Valencia recommends the Datu Puti brand of Ilocano sugarcane vinegar and Mechachef fish sauce, both of which can be found at most Filipino supermarkets.
½ cup Ilocano sugarcane vinegar
1 oz fish sauce
½ tbsp shallot, finely diced (brunoise)
½ tsp Kosher salt
¼ tsp granulated sugar
A Mason jar, sterilized
In a medium bowl, toss the shallots with salt and sugar. Allow to macerate for 5 minutes. Add the sugarcane vinegar and fish sauce, then let sit for at least 5 minutes. Be sure to date and label the Mason jar, then store the Seasoned Ilocano Sugarcane Vinegar until ready to use.
FERMENTED FRESNO CHILE PEPPER PURÉE
1 lb Fresno chile peppers, washed
3% brine solution, by weight
Filtered water, as needed
Extra-virgin olive oil, as needed
Distilled white vinegar, as needed
Salt, as needed
A Mason jar, sterilized
Fine mesh cheesecloth
Prepare the chiles: Stem, seed and slice the chile peppers, then transfer them to the Mason jar.
Next, make the brine using a 3:100 ratio of salt to filtered water.
Pickle the chiles: Top off the chiles with your brine. If necessary, push the chiles down using plastic wrap to make sure they are completely submerged. Cover the mouth of the jar with a fine mesh cheesecloth and secure with a rubber band. Be sure to label and date the Mason jar before storing it in a cool, preferably dark place for 7 to 10 days.
After 7 to 10 days, or upon achieving desired level of fermentation, strain and rinse the chiles.
Make the purée: Next, transfer the fermented chiles to a blender and pulse. If necessary, add a small amount of water to the mixture until it forms a thick purée. Then blend in extra-virgin olive oil until the mixture reaches a thick enough consistency to be able to hold the shape of a dot on a plate.
Top photo of red snapper kinilaw by Stephanie Barros.