This is the first of a series for the Lasang Pinoy Edition 20: Binalot, All Wrapped Up! I’m hosting this month’s event and while I thought it might be interesting, I had no clue what I was in for! This was actually the easiest dish I made so I’m posting it first.
The dishes I had in mind were all rather complicated and required dexterity, which I unfortunately lack….big-time. Then there was the scrounging around for ingredients and recipes. Then there’s the fact that these are recipes I’ve never tried to do on my own before. I even attempted a recipe I’d only heard of, but never tasted or saw before. Despite all the hassles, I enjoyed myself but am glad I’m done with the cooking.
Here’s a photo of the Ginataang Tilapia. It’s a whole tilapia unwrapped from its white bok choy encasement after stewing in coconut cream, onion, garlic and ginger:
This was one of my old favorites which my mother made quite often in the past. Our version doesn’t have the tomato stuffing that our neighbor from Bicol says the original version has. I’ve tried that and still prefer my mother’s version but this recipe here has both.
If you look at the photo closely, it looks like the sauce didn’t thicken. This is because the photo was taken right after I turned off the heat and transferred this fish to a plate. A few minutes later, the sauce thickened further and it looked gorgeous sitting on a large serving plate. I regret not taking a photo of all three fishes laid out that way…with the coconut cream all thick and yummy.
For those living in the US, this can be an easy recipe to make since all the ingredients are readily available in supermarkets with an Asian community. You can serve this to anyone who is not afraid to see a whole fish – as it should be served I personally believe.
There are a just a couple tricks to the wrapping. I have a photo here of how I wrapped the first one. The other two in the pot were wrapped differently though. Instead of having the leaves in a mirrored position with the white stems fanning out, I laid them on top of each other, with the white ends about an inch apart. This was easier to handle. You also have to smack the white stems of the bok choy with the back of your knife to flatten it out. Don’t use the whole stem, just leave about half an inch to an inch.
Here’s the complete recipe, with the tomato stuffing and the chilis:
3 whole tilapia, gutted and scales removed
6 large white bok choy leaves with an inch of the stems still on and hit with the back of a knife to take out the stiffness
3 Roma tomatoes, seeded and diced (optional)
3 scallions, minced (optional)
1 minced garlic (optional)
1/4-inch ginger root, peeled and minced
about a cup of pure coconut cream (from 1-2 coconuts)
about 2 cups of the second extraction of 1-2 coconuts
half a head of garlic, peeled and minced
1 large white onion, diced
about 1/2-inch ginger root, peeled and sliced thin
3 siling haba chilis or any chili you prefer (optional)
2 tbsps. fish sauce
Make sure your fish is clean. I always gently rub fresh tilapia with rock salt just because it makes me feel good. Rinse well. Cut a slit in the belly. Dry and keep in your refrigerator if it’s a hot day (it always is where I am!).
Mix the tomatoes, scallions and ginger root in a small bowl. Add about 1/2 teaspoon salt. Take out the fish and stuff the bellies with this mix.
Lay out a couple of bok choy leaves on a small tray one on top of each other is best. Place one fish on one end and start wrapping it. Don’t worry about the ends sticking out. That’s perfectly fine. Repeat for the rest of the fish. Set aside.
In a kawali or wok, place the rest of the ingredients except for the coconut cream. Place the fishes over this and then pour out the coconut’s second extraction. Place your pot over medium heat and allow to simmer till most of the water is gone. This should take about 20 minutes with the lid half on.
At this stage, pour the pure coconut cream and allow to boil once before turning off the heat. Check for taste. Serve immediately.