Typical of Laguna (and Bulacan) style of cooking fish paksiw is that hint of sweetness amidst the sour taste of vinegar. Sweetness that one shouldn’t decipher as coming from sugar but from the ripe tomato squashed in the soup. But it’s actually sugar.
Ayungin (scientific named Leiopotherapon plumbeus), or silver perch, a small, silvery colored freshwater fish long ago abundant in Laguna Lake. Eating this fish is a bit tricky, just like that intricacy in preparing sushi, the art in finishing a piece of ayungin has a pattern where a master and a newbie can very well be adjudged by the leftovers they make of eating it. The deliciousness of this dish draws percentage on how well an eater can execute the ritual of consuming Ayungin. The fish eyes sucking out trick is included in the ritual and the fisheggs lumped inside its tummy is a bonus to be enjoyed by showing it off to tablemates, probably in a Mr. Bean-like manner.
Cooking this fish demands a particular length and window of time. Follow the procedures and definitely you’d never go wrong. It’s easy if you have a feel of the flame you’ll have to cook this paksiw. Unlike chopsuey, this is not a wok thing where you have to constantly toss and stir ingredients, or have a particular sequence of putting in ingredients.
Also, paksiw needs to kill that fishy scent by chili or hotness flavor either from serrano chili peppers (siling pansigang) or ginger. It’s amateurish to see both in the dish. When I was growing up, everyone uses turmeric (looks like orange ginger) with chili pepper to cook this instead of plain ginger to define the flavor of the soup and the fish itself.
In enjoying a rice meal with this, we usually prepare a special condiment mixture – “patis labo”, it looks like a chocolate-drink and is much thicker than regular transparent fish sauce, has milder taste and smell than bagoong sauce. We usually put in it thinly minced “paho”, a fragrant exotic miniature mango (mangifera altissima) and boom! – heaven in a poor man’s hut. Kalamansi and siling labuyo is also optional.
Normally, those who hate eating sardines or fish may not appreciate this glorious dish. Like crabs, it has an after smell although much easier to wash off. It is better served slightly cooled out but with steaming hot rice. Actually, the time it consumes to continuously cook after turning off the fire is important. Overcooking the fish would cause it to be to soggy, the fish flesh would be easily get dissolved in the soup and such wouldn’t be nice.
So here’s the recipe.
3/4 kilo Ayungin (size 3 fingers is best) Removal of scales, gills and intestines not necessary.
3 pcs chili peppers (siling pansigang) break it open
1 spoonful crushed garlic
1 sliced onion
2 squashed riped tomatoes
1 spoonful crushed turmeric
1 cup vinegar
2 cups water
1 tablespoon salt
1 teaspoon sugar
250 grams sliced ampalaya or eggplant
• Clean fishes thoroughly.
• Put the sugar in the pot (saucefan will do the job) with some of the garlic, onion, turmeric, chili peppers, tomatoes then arrange the ayungin flatly.
• Put in the remaining garlic, onion, turmeric, chili peppers, tomatoes evenly on top and in between the fishes then sprinkle the salt.
• Pour in the vinegar then the water slowly and cover firmly.
• Bring to boil then allow to boil for 7-10 minutes defending on the flame.
• Let it stand for 30 minutes after turning off the fire without removing the lid.
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