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Sinaing Sa Gata (Tuna Stewed in Dried Bilimbi & Coconut Cream)

By Reel and Grill


In the Southern Tagalog region of the Philippines, ?sinaing? (not to be confused with the common way of cooking rice) refers to a particular method of cooking several types of fish, especially those belonging to tuna, mackerel, sardines and scad families, by slowly stewing the fish seasoned with salt and pepper in dried bilimbi (?kamias?) or ripe sour-variety tamarind (?sampalok?) and garlic until meat and sometimes even bones are very tender and the resulting earthy salty sauce called ?patis? (not to be confused with fish sauce) is reduced and aromatic.

The dish goes very well with steamed rice and some local beans and pea such as long beans (?sitaw?), short beans ("kibal") and lima beans (?patani?) and pigeon pea (?kadyos?) which are either boiled with tomatoes and fresh garlic or stewed with other vegetables in a dish called ?bulanglang?.

I intend to cook the probably most widely known ?sinaing? dish which is the ?Sinaing na Tulingan? (blue fin tuna) and post it here sometime later so for the bullet tuna I recently purchased and featured under the ?Mixed Bag of Fish from Sri Lanka Waters 2? post, I will cook it ?Sinaing sa Gata? or basically tuna fish stewed in dried bilimbi (souring agent) and coconut cream. Whilst I also like the creamy sauce of the dish, I intend to cook it dry or ?iga? to attain a much deeper taste of the fish to go with my rice. :-)

For the dish, we need a medium-sized, about a kilogram, bullet tuna. You can also use other varieties of tuna like skipjack or bonito or juvenile dogtooth, big-eyed, yellow fin, etc. In Southern Tagalog, the first requirement for the fish is freshness. It should really be fresh. The skin should be shiny, the body still firm and eyes not red.

Tuna?s are particularly bloody so proper cleaning is necessary to drain the blood as much as possible. Wash the fish and remove the gills and gut. Wash as many times as possible to get rid of the blood. Slice the body crosswise to about half an inch thick and halves the head. Again wash the cut up fish and drain several times. It is suggested to liberally season the fish with salt at this point.

As mentioned above the souring agent commonly used in the ?sinaing? dish is dried bilimbi or ?kamias?. It is basically made from fresh Averrhoa bilimbi or cucumber tree fruits cut lengthwise, quartered if big and halves if small, and continuously dried under the heat of the sun until you attain this not very pretty ingredient:

For the medium tuna we have, we only need a handful of dried bilimbi, washed and drained. To complement the souring agent are a few basic ingredients you always have in your pantry, such as 5 gloves garlic, peeled and smashed, 1 tsp ground pepper, about a tbsp or more of salt (half of which, you should have already applied to the fish earlier), some MSG if you like, my son don?t so I omitted it and of course about a cup of water.

Many families will tell you that the secret to a really wonderful ?sinaing? are some slices of pork fat stack in between the fish pieces. It could be, but for me, the right amount of ingredients and the slow method of cooking is what makes the difference. After all, our ancestors who invented the dish long time ago never used such pork fat. I must admit though, I also use it sometimes in my cooking. :-)

In a ?palayok? or earthen pot, or if you don?t have one like me, a stainless casserole or pot, spread the dried bilimbi and garlic on the bottom. Properly arrange the fish on top of them. Evenly sprinkle the ground pepper and the remaining salt on top of the fish and slowly pour water to about its level or slightly lower.



Over medium heat, cook the fish with the lid on. When the liquid has started boiling lower the heat and continue simmering until the meat is tender. Cook on a really low heat for the sauce to avoid drying up. You can add hot water as necessary, half a cup at a time. Cook until a delicate slightly salty sauce remains.


This is basically ?sinaing? already and ready to be served in a meal, but since our object is with ?gata? (coconut cream?), we have to continue. Prepare about ¾ cup coconut cream and 2 pcs green finger chilies.

Pour the coconut cream, place the chilies on top and continue cooking for about 8 minutes more. If you want a saucy dish, stop when you think the creamy sauce is just about the right amount for you.


Since I planned to have my ?sinaing? as dry or ?iga?, I continued cooking until the coconut cream is already rendering some oil (?naglalangis?) and there is barely sauce that remains. :-)

Transfer the dish to a shallow bowl and serve immediately with steamed rice. Prepare several mound of rice as you will surely need it. Enjoy! It?s a ?carbo? load time. c?,)


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