What is bilimbi? Called kamias in the Philippines, averrhoa bilimbi is a tropical tree cultivated widely in Southeast Asia. The sour fruit can be eaten raw or used in cooking.
Why salmon belly? There are countries where the fish belly is thrown away. In some of the cookbooks I own, part of the tips in cleaning, cutting and preparing slices of fish is cutting off the belly, especially the section that contains the most amount of fat.
In the Philippines, fish belly is a delicacy. It is rich and delicious in a way that no description can give justice to. It’s the same with fish head. You just have to try it with the open mind of the curious and adventurous to appreciate it.
When cooking sinigang with chicken or pork, the meat is added during the early stages of cooking because they need time to simmer to tenderness. Not so with seafood — especially smallish pieces — which takes a much shorter time to cook. So, the salmon belly is added towards the end.
When cooking sinigang with kamias, I add the kamias, I include the kamias during the sauteeing. It needs time to soften to coax out the tartness. If added during the last stage of cooking, it won’t add much flavor to the broth.
As with any sinigang variant, I add the vegetables in stages starting with what takes longest to cook. For the vegetable combo in this recipe, my preferred order is okra, eggplant, thick stalks of the kangkong and thin stalks of the kangkong at two to three-minute intervals.
The salmon belly and kangkong leaves go in last. By the time the kangkong leaves wilt, the salmon belly is fully done (without being overcooked) and the rest of the vegetables are cooked through.
Salmon belly sinigang
- 2 tablespoons cooking oil
- 4 cloves garlic - peeled and pounded
- 1 onion - peeled and thinly sliced
- 1 large plump tomato - diced
- 3 finger chilies - halved
- 12 to 15 pieces kamias - (averrhoa bilimbi) cut into four to five pieces
- fish sauce
- 4 to 6 cups vegetable or fish broth
- 6 to 8 young okra
- 1 eggplant
- 1 bunch kangkong - (water / swamp spinach) cut into two-inch lengths, stalks and leaves separated
- 500 grams salmon belly - cut into two-inch pieces
- Heat the cooking oil in a pot. Saute the garlic, onion, tomato and chilies for about a minute.
- Add the kamias and pour in about two tablespoons of fish sauce. Stir.
- Set the heat to low, cover the pot and cook until everything softens and starts to liquefy. It'll take about ten minutes.
- Pour the vegetable or fish broth into the pot and bring to the boil. Taste, add more fish sauce to balance the acidity of the kamias.
- Add the okra, eggplant, thick stalks of the kangkong and thin stalks of the kangkong at two to three-minute intervals.
- Finally, add the salmon belly and kangkong leaves. When the soup comes to a hard boil, turn off the heat, cover the pot and leave to cook the fish in the residual heat for five minutes.
- Give the salmon belly sinigang broth a final taste. Add more fish sauce, if needed. Serve immediately.