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Pinais na Isdang Dapa (Flounder Stew in Banana Leaves)

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As the month of June celebrates the Philippine Independence Day, Kulinarya Cooking Club’s challenge is all about a dish that’s ‘only in the Philippines’.  Choosing a unique dish is quite tough, not because of the strong influences from the Chinese, Spanish and Americans, but because I’ve always believed that one way or another a native Filipino dish has similarities with some other dish from our Southeast Asian neighbors.  This is just my observation having lived in this region for almost a decade.   Like tom yum for sinigang, sup tulang for nilaga or bulalo, pancit canton for mee goreng, belacan for bagoong or alamang, ketupat for suman or patupat, kueh kueh for sapin sapin.  Of course, in most of these examples the spices differ big time.  And with that in mind, I deduce that what spice up a dish somehow makes it unique.

I have fond memories of the fish dishes I grew up with. These are the likes of sinaing and pinais, and the fish would be tulingan, tambakol, hiwas, tilapia, dulong or tawilis – cooked by my Batanguena mom.  There might be a similar fish stew dish somewhere around the world and the fish may also be wrapped in banana or mustard leaves.  But mom’s are, without fail, spiced with dried kamias (belimbi).  With a tree in our backyard, we’ve always had a banig (hand-woven mat made of palm leaves) laid on the ground with lots of kamias to dry under the sun during summer.  The dried fruits would be kept in sealed containers to last until the next summer.

Weeks ago I told Erwin I haven’t really decided what to cook for KCC as it all depends on what I’d find at the market.  Initially I was planning to cook mustard leaves-wrapped tuna steaks in coconut milk but I couldn’t find the right cut on the day I went to the fish market.  So instead, I bought a couple of flounders that I normally steam with soy sauce and ginger.  I was looking for a packet of fresh kamias from the Philippines, which I can find on a lucky day, but instead found frozen banana leaves from Thailand.  Great.  Pinais na isda it is.  I would be extra-pleased if I could find fresh tamarind but for now I rely on the ever-available lemon.

Mom’s pinais na isda involves handfuls of small fishes (dulong or tawilis) generously sprinkled with salt and wrapped together in banana leaves. These wraps will then be arranged in a claypot over chunks of pork fat and dried kamias, and totally immersed in water. The pot will be cooked over low heat, simmered for hours (at least 4 hours!) until there is enough patis (fish sauce) left. Cooked this way, you can eat the fish to the last bone, as bones and heads are soft enough to eat. The dish is best eaten with steamed rice soaked with the cooked patis. The rendered pork fat adds flavor to the salty, sour fish sauce.

I remember the smell of heated banana leaves over flame, which we always do before wrapping the fish. Aside from that distinct banana leaf flavor, mom says the reason the small fishes are wrapped is to make sure they don’t move or disintegrate during cooking. The same thing applies with the flounders I bought, to make sure each fish still looks good when unwrapped. I also threw in some green and red chili to add flavor.

In the many years I’ve lived outside the Philippines, which is surprisingly almost half of my life now, I’ve cooked these Batangas fish dishes whenever the craving comes.  Tuna my personal choice and lemon my souring agent.

Ingredients:
2 flounders, cleaned and guts removed
Salt
150-200g of pork fat, cut into chunks
2 lemon (1 sliced thinly) – use a handful of dried kamias if available
Few pieces of green and red chili (optional)
Banana leaves (if possible, heated over flame so it’s easy to fold)

Lay few chunks of pork fat on a banana leaf.  Sprinkle fish generously with salt and place on top of pork chunks.  Squeeze lemon juice on fish and arrange few slices of lemon on top.

Add a chili or 2 next to the fish then carefully wrap with banana leaves.  Repeat the procedure with the other flounder.  Arrange wrapped fish on a pot with pork fat chunks and chilis.  Pour enough water to cover.  Squeeze more lemon juice and sprinkle more salt all over.  (Don’t be afraid to add more salt or lemon juice.  You’re supposed to make fish sauce here.)  You may throw in the lemon peel next to the wrapped fish or discard.

Bring to boil then lower heat and simmer for 1-½ hours or until pork fat is melt-in-your-mouth tender. Remember not to dry up the stew; keep at least half a cup of fish sauce to drizzle on your steamed rice later.

Carefully place banana leaf-wrapped fish in a platter and tear off the leaves to open.  Serve as it is or discard the leaves.

“Kulinarya Cooking Club was started by a group of Filipino foodies living in Sydney who are passionate about the Filipino culture and its colourful cuisine.

Each month we will showcase a new dish along with their family recipes. By sharing these recipes, we hope you find the same passion and love for Filipino food as we do.” – Kulinarya Cooking Club

“Philippine Independence Day is just around the corner…so for this month’s challenge, Cherrie Moore of Sweet Cherrie Pie & I have decided to focus on our country’s unique dishes i.e., food that can be found “Only in the Philippines”. Whether it’s an appetizer, soup, main entree, dessert or even snack, we would love to see you share a favorite food of yours that can’t be found anywhere else.” – Tina of Pinay In Texas Cooking Corner

5.0 from 5 reviews
Pinais na Isdang Dapa (Flounder Stew in Banana Leaves)
Author: 
Recipe type: Main
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Serves: 2-3
 
Ingredients
  • 2 flounders, cleaned and guts removed
  • Salt
  • 150-200g of pork fat, cut into chunks
  • 2 lemon (1 sliced thinly) – use a handful of dried kamias if available
  • Few pieces of green and red chili (optional)
  • Banana leaves (if possible, heated over flame so it’s easy to fold)
Instructions
  1. Lay few chunks of pork fat on a banana leaf. Sprinkle fish generously with salt and place on top of pork chunks. Squeeze lemon juice on fish and arrange few slices of lemon on top.
  2. Add a chili or 2 next to the fish then carefully wrap with banana leaves. Repeat the procedure with the other flounder. Arrange wrapped fish on a pot with pork fat chunks and chilis. Pour enough water to cover. Squeeze more lemon juice and sprinkle more salt all over. (Don’t be afraid to add more salt or lemon juice. You’re supposed to make fish sauce here.) You may throw in the lemon peel next to the wrapped fish or discard.
  3. Bring to boil then lower heat and simmer for 1-½ hours or until pork fat is melt-in-your-mouth tender. Remember not to dry up the stew; keep at least half a cup of fish sauce to drizzle on your steamed rice later.
  4. Carefully place banana leaf-wrapped fish in a platter and tear off the leaves to open. Serve as it is or discard the leaves.
Notes
- I didn’t heat the banana leaves over flame as I am using ceramic. - When you think the fish is almost ready, you may steam vegetables like okra, eggplant or beans on top of the wrapped fish to serve later. Serve them with chopped fresh tomatoes and drizzled with cooked fish sauce. - Feel free to cook longer (at least 4 hours) when using small fish so that bones and head will be soft enough to eat. Add water when necessary.
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Iska
I am not a professional cook. My only claim to having a culinary background is a short stint as my dad’s teen ‘sous chef’ in his carinderia ages ago. Dad ran small eateries since I was a young kid - serving standard ‘turo-turo’ food ranging from the likes of menudo, adobo, pritong isda, dinuguan, binagoongan, bopis, munggo, pinakbet and giniling to merienda fares like goto, ginataan, pancit bihon, halu-halo and saging con yelo.

My father, a farmer in his hometown before working his way to becoming an accountant, definitely influenced my cooking in a lot of ways than I thought. My siblings and I were raised in a backyard full of fruit trees and vegetable garden. We spent weekends and the summer breaks running around with ducks, chickens, goats and pigs. I had wonderful memories of gathering eggs, butchering chickens, selling vegetables and the sweet aroma of preserved fruits. But my love for art led me to a degree in Architecture. Just few months after getting my license, I went abroad and lived independently at age 23. Definitely no maid, no cook, and a totally different food culture. Along the way I met lots of friends and spent what seemed a lifetime learning new tricks and recipes.

Now living in Auckland, I am a work-from-home mum who juggles time between work, fun and family - in pursuit of work-life balance. No matter how busy I am, I love the idea of cooking for my family. My blog chronicles home cooking greatly influenced by life outside my home country from Southeast Asia to Beijing and Auckland. And most of the time, being busy also means easy (sometimes quick), affordable meals.

20 thoughts on “Pinais na Isdang Dapa (Flounder Stew in Banana Leaves)

    1. Yes, the fish sauce itself would make one eat more with rice. I have a hard time trying to cut rice when I’m having pinais or pangat.

    1. You can still do this using fillets, Dexie. Or you can wrap them individually with mustard leaves instead and cook with coconut milk. That’s so yum!

  1. I’m drying a bilao of kamias, but they’ve grown molds as it had been raining for days. I have tulingan waiting in the freezer to become pinais.

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