Aug 28, 2013

How to Cook Filipino Fish Stew

Filipino fish stew
Fish stew is probably the healthiest meal you can have. High in protein, omega-3-rich, infused with antioxidant-rich herbs and with nutrient-dense leafy greens—fish stew is simply guilt-free. It has none of the things that you would be afraid of: none of the excess oils or refined carbs of fried foods or the potential carcinogens of grilled foods.
Filipino fish stew is called fish tinola. It is clean, green, light and healthy. Here are the ingredients in my recent fish stew, Filipino style.

fresh lemongrass for Filipino fish stew
Fresh lemongrass is a must-have in Filipino fish stew. I would cook fish stew with only this as the herb. It is so good it can stand alone without the help of other herbs. It has a cool, ginger-y and citrus-y aroma which makes for an unmistakably oriental soup. You can read up on the health benefits of lemongrass here. It is a very common herb here in the Philippines. In fact, I have two lemongrass plants in my own garden.

fresh lemongrass for Filipino fish stew
Considering that a blade of lemongrass could grow to as long as a meter, you would find it some kind of a problem as to how to fit it into your cook pot. Here in the Philippines, we like to cut the bulbs off and either: (1) throw them away or (2) plant them. In Malaysia, they mash the bulb somewhat and use it as herb.

a knot of fresh lemongrass for Filipino fish stew
Filipinos tie the leaves into a knot like this. Just so it can fit into the cook pot. By the way, this cannot be eaten. You’ve been warned. This is thrown away right after cooking, though I find that if I leave it in the pot longer, the lemongrass aroma becomes stronger and the soup becomes more flavorful.

onions for my Filipino fish stew
Chop a head of onions. Filipinos actually use a lot of herbs for fish stew. You can certainly use tomatoes, ginger, scallions and red or green bell peppers. The more herbs, the better your fish stew is nutritionally and gastronomically. However, you can really cook fish stew with just 2 of the aforementioned herbs. As a rule, Filipinos do not use garlic in fish stew.

herbs in my Filipino fish stew
The first step is to boil the herbs in water. I put in enough water as to cover the fish with double to triple the fish volume, put in the herbs and bring it to a rolling boil. I like to let the herbs boil for a minute or two before putting in the fish.

how to cook Filipino fish stew

fish for my Filipino fish stew
This fish is called balu in Cebuano but you can use any kind of fish. When the fish is cooked (about 5 minutes of boiling), it’s time to season the fish stew with salt and add in the moringa leaves.

fresh moringa for my Filipino fish stew
Here are moringa straight from my garden. You can read about the health benefits of moringa here. Filipinos also use alugbati which looks like spinach or kangkong which looks like water hyacinth.

fresh moringa leaves for my Filipino fish stew
Here is a plate of moringa leaves stripped from its stalk. Stripping the tiny leaves from the stalks is a somewhat tedious process but Filipino homemakers are used to it and we have a trick up our sleeve in going about it. After putting in the moringa leaves into the boiling stew, I count from 1 to 10 and call my fish stew done. I want my moringa leaves to still be bright green and crisp.

Filipino fish stew
Here is my Filipino fish stew. This is sooo good and sooo healthy.


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