One look in the picture above and I thought "there are monsters in my soup!!". They look pretty sinister don't you think? But God help them once me and my husband have started the 'attack'. Only bones and fins were left. Sorry about the picture, you can hardly see any other condiments in it. The heads are so big they just overwhelmed everything else - the taro, spinach, etc.
We had a chance to go to the nearby Chinese supermarket and I saw these big gorgeous salmon heads. Immediately my husband said sinigang! So I bought two for only £1 each and put all the other ingredients in our cart salivating on the thought of a sour sinigang when we get home.
Sinigang for you non-Filipinos is clear sour soup dish. It may contain any type of meat - beef, pork, fish, chicken with any combination of vegetables. I've seen Pinoys putting in broccoli and carrots. In HongKong I always put in mustard leaves. Since it is a soup, the bone-y parts of meat is preferable to use to give it more flavour. The sour taste come from a number of fruits - sampalok fruit (tamarind), sampalok young leaves, bayabas (guava), kamias (what's kamias in English?), among others. If you're not in Asia it can be a problem to get these so you can substitute with lemon or lime.
I remember very well the first time I got a salmon head from our local Tesco supermarket. I pointed to the salmon cabeza and told the shop assistant "I'll have those please." He proceeded to bag it and stick a barcode on it. He handed it to me, we said our thank yous and I tried looking at the price in that barcode label. There was none. I asked him how much is it. He said "It's okay it's free. By the way, how many cats do you have?" He thought it was for my non-existent cat !! I tried hard to compose myself not to laugh with the thought that he might take away my precious salmon head. I mumbled something about 2 cats and hurriedly left. I don't want to linger around trying to answer questions on the colour or whether it's male or female, etc. Sus! If he only knew who the 'cats' were ... hahaha!
Okay on with the show, fish (including their head) cooks very easily. You cannot cook it for more than 10 minutes or you will end up with luray-luray na isda (nuked fish). Do not overcook the fish because it's not appetising when it is. Since it cooks easily, it has to be one of the last ones in the pot. The chili is important to reduce the lansa (slimeminess) of the fish.
If you are using real fresh unripe sampalok fruit you have to wash it first to remove most of the brown powdery thing on its skin. Cook it with the onion and tomatoes or separately in another saucepan with some water. [For me, souring with sampalok is the best.] Once cooked, fish them out (the sampalok not the fish), put in a bowl with some water and mash them. This is what you will use as a souring agent - straining of course to exclude the skin and seeds. Or if you think this is all a big hassle you could do as I did - I bought a jar of Thai tamarind puree. Ta-da! Problem solved. I avoid using the sinigang powder mix because the sourness does not last when you reheat it. And I bet there's some synthetic chemicals in them, too. So let's all eat an all natural sinigang and use sampalok. If you can't find sampalok use lemon and/or lime.
Salmon Head Sinigang
1 or 2 salmon head
3-4 tomatoes - sliced
1 big onion - sliced
1 Tbsp rock salt
1-2 chilis (red or green) - pointed ends cut off
6-8 cups water or rice water*
souring agent (tamarind puree, lemon and/or lime)
1 aubergine (eggplant) - sliced 1 inch thick and quartered
1 bunch long string beans (sitaw) [optional] - cut into 2 inch pieces
2 taro roots (gabi) - peeled and quartered
spinach leaves or kangkong - washed and plucked from stems
- Have the fishmonger remove the gills and clean the salmon head. If you can have the head cut lengthwise so much the better.
- Combine tomatoes, onion, and rock salt in a big pot. Mix and mash them a little bit with your fingers. Add chilis.
- Pour just enough water to cover them and bring to boil. Cook for about 3 minutes. Mash the tomatoes with a sandok (cooking spoon).
- Pour in the rest of the water and add taro, aubergine and sitaw. Bring to boil and simmer until taro is almost cooked (about 5 minutes).
- Add fish head and cook for 5 minutes or until the fish meat is cooked.
- Add the souring agent and spinach (for tamarind puree I use about 3/4 cup of it). Cook for 1-2 minutes. Taste soup and adjust seasonings accordingly. Serve.