Thursday, June 2, 2011

Sili | Philippine Chili - Siling Mahaba, Siling Labuyo

Philippine chili photo

Sili is the Filipino term for chili peppers.  Hot Philippine chilies are generally one of two varieties of chili: siling mahaba (also known as siling pangsigang, siling espada, and chili picante) or siling labuyo.  Bell peppers (Capsicum annuum var. annuum) are locally called siling bilog ("round chili") or siling parasko.

Description of Sili 

Siling mahaba (translation: "long chili") is usually a bright green but gets redder with age.  Despite its name, it grows to be only about a finger long although it is longer than the other commonly found hot chili pepper in the Philippines, siling labuyo.  Likely a cultivar of Capsicum annuum longum, siling mahaba packs about the same heat as a jalapeño.

Siling labuyo (translation: "wild chili") are smaller and much hotter—at one time even being listed in the Guinness Book of World Records as the hottest chili although the habañero and other hotter chili peppers have since been identified. Their taxonomic classification is less clear with some saying they're Capsicum frutescens while others suggest that they too are Capsicum annuum or even Capsicum chinense because of their greater heat.  Genuine Philippine siling labuyo are becoming increasingly hard to find in Filipino markets where they are being supplanted by bird's eye chilies from Taiwan that keep better and which are also being labeled as siling labuyo.  The Philippine variety can be distinguished from its Taiwanese counterpart by its length; Philippine siling labuyo is shorter.

Origin of Sili

Philippine chilies, like all chilies, are believed to have originated in the Americas—some sources saying around Mexico, others in Peru—and were spread around the world by European traders, primarily the Spanish and Portuguese.

Uses of Sili

Siling mahaba as its alternative name suggests is often used in sinigang to give it an extra kick.  It's also used in dinuguan.  Siling labuyo is an ingredient in dishes like Bicol express.  It has been used to make hot sauce and to give extra flavor to vinegar to make spiced vinegar.  It is also sometimes supplied at the table for those who might wish to combine it with soy sauce, fish sauce, or vinegar to make a dipping sauce. Chili leaves (dahon ng sili) from the plant can be used in cooking as well such as in the Filipino dish tinola,

There are non-culinary uses as well. Siling labuyo, is used in Philippine herbal remedies and as a homemade insecticide.  The chili's capsaicin content which makes it hot to the taste buds also generates therapeutic heat when prepared with coconut oil as a topical ointment for body aches; when mixed with water it can be sprayed on plants to kill and ward off insects.

More information:
  • Hot Pepper. (n.d.). Department of Agriculture, Philippines.
  • Nagpala, Ellaine Grace L. (October 2007). A fresh look at siling labuyo. BAR Chronicle. Bureau of Agricultural Research, Philippines. 
  • Perry, Linda; Dickau, Ruth; Zarrillo, Sonia; Holst, Irene; Pearsall, Deborah M.; Piperno, Dolores R.; Berman, Mary Jane; Cooke, Richard G.; Rademaker, Kurt; Ranere, Anthony J.; Raymond, J. Scott; Sandweiss, Daniel H.; Scaramelli, Franz; Tarble, Kay; Zeidler, James A. (February 16, 2007). Starch Fossils and the Domestication and Dispersal of Chili Peppers (Capsicum spp. L.) in the Americas. Science.
  • Sokolov, Raymond. (April 1993). Why We Eat What We Eat: How Columbus Changed the Way the World Eats. Touchstone.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Bangus | Milkfish

Milkfish, a silvery scaled fish

Scientific Chanos chanos
Other Giant herring

Milkfish in the Philippines is called bangus. The scientific name of bangus is Chanos chanos. It is the sole specie in the family Chanidae in the order Gonorynchiformes in the subclass Actinopterygii (ray-finned fish).  It has a bright silvery sheen, a relatively small toothless mouth, and a single dorsal fin.  Milkfish can grow to over a meter long although the ones found in markets are generally smaller.

It is an important aquaculture and commercial fish species.  Milkfish farming has been practiced for around 800 years and provides much of the current supply.   In 2007, milkfish made up 17% of global finfish production behind only the 40% share accounted for by Atlantic salmon.  The Philippines and Indonesia account for the vast majority of production.  In 2009, Philippine milkfish production contributed to 14.03% of Philippine aquaculture production behind seaweed (70.23%) and ahead of tilapia (10.53%).

Philippine Bangus

Bangus – Philippine national fish?
Philippine waters are home to myriad fish species, many of which are not found elsewhere.  But out of all of these fish bangus has managed to capture the attention of Filipinos the most.  There are other notable fish in Filipino culture to be sure.  More popular with the masses is the inexpensive galunggong—but it has a fishy taste (malansa). The grouper or lapu-lapu (a name it shares with a national hero) on the other hand is commonly served in fine restaurants. Another prized fish among foodies is the maliputo, as is the increasingly rare ludong. But unlike bangus fish like these usually have no role in the everyday lives of people. The tasty yet relevant fish most everyone in the country can get behind is the milkfish unofficially considered by many as the Philippines' national fish.

Marinated fried boneless bangus belly served with garlic bits slice of tomato and rice at Jollibee

Milkfish has a distinct flavor; it is not a neutral bland white fish. Still its natural flavor is mild enough that it can be cooked in the manner of neutral white fish, but it tastes best when its flavor is selectively paired with complementary ingredients and cooking methods.  It is said that somewhat smaller milkfish taste better.  Milkfish from Dagupan/Bonuan, also have a reputation for their flavor. They can be identified by their slightly smaller and more pointed heads.

Before cooking, the milkfish is cleaned by removing the scales and guts.  It also has many small bones that will need to be removed at some point, either in preparation or later while eating.  Still, deboning is optional for some recipes.  Fortunately the small bones are usually clustered together facilitating their removal.   The skin is often left on as it can be separated from the meat at the dining table as well or simply eaten.  A dark meat lining lies between the white meat and skin and helps to naturally separate the two.  The milkfish's belly fat has a flavorful taste.  Indeed the belly is a prized portion of the fish.  Boneless milkfish belly cuts sold in Philippine markets command a premium.

Pre-marinated packaged frozen milkfish Sarangani Bay brand

There are many popular Filipino milkfish recipes such as paksiw na bangus, sinigang na bangus, rellenong bangus, pinaputok na bangus, bangus sa tausi, bangus escabeche and bangus sisig.  In my view, however, the qualities of milkfish are shown to best advantage in bangus recipes where it is fried in oil to brown it and create a maillard reaction rather than steamed or baked which can leave bangus tasting somewhat limp although this can be overcome if it is accompanied in the dish by other ingredients imparting contrasting flavors and textures.  The classic—and in my book definitive—way to cook milkfish is that used in daing na bangus:  marinate in vinegar, salt, pepper, and garlic and then fry to a golden brown. This cooking method is applied to other fish as well but milkfish cooked this way is especially good.  The vinegar and garlic moderate and blend with the flavor of the milkfish's belly fat without overwhelming it and the crispy bangus skin is a contrast with the tender meat.  Fried milkfish is often served with atsara or sliced tomato as a side dish or condiment.  On the other hand cooking milkfish as a paksiw or sinigang has been shown to retain more of its nutritional attributes.

Pritong Bangus Milkfish

Milkfish in Other Countries

In Indonesia milkfish is called bandeng; in Taiwan 虱目魚. In Taiwanese cuisine, the belly is often used in a dish of milkfish congee.

Nutrition Information

According to the USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference raw milkfish contains the following nutrients:

Nutrient Unit Value per 100.0g # of Data Points Std. Error 85g
Water g 70.85 2 -- 60.22
Energy kcal 148 -- -- 126
Energy kJ 619 -- -- 526
Protein g 20.53 1 -- 17.45
Total lipid (fat) g 6.73 2 -- 5.72
Ash g 1.14 1 -- 0.97
Carbohydrate, by difference g 0.00 -- -- 0.00
Fiber, total dietary g 0.0 -- -- 0.0
Calcium, Ca mg 51 1 -- 43
Iron, Fe mg 0.32 1 -- 0.27
Magnesium, Mg mg 30 -- -- 26
Phosphorus, P mg 162 1 -- 138
Potassium, K mg 292 -- -- 248
Sodium, Na mg 72 -- -- 61
Zinc, Zn mg 0.82 40 0.040 0.70
Copper, Cu mg 0.034 41 0.002 0.029
Manganese, Mn mg 0.020 -- -- 0.017
Selenium, Se µg 12.6 -- -- 10.7
Vitamin C, total ascorbic acid mg 0.0 -- -- 0.0
Thiamin mg 0.013 1 -- 0.011
Riboflavin mg 0.054 1 -- 0.046
Niacin mg 6.440 1 -- 5.474
Pantothenic acid mg 0.750 -- -- 0.638
Vitamin B-6 mg 0.423 1 -- 0.360
Folate, total µg 16 -- -- 14
Folic acid µg 0 -- -- 0
Folate, food µg 16 -- -- 14
Folate, DFE mcg_DFE 16 -- -- 14
Vitamin B-12 µg 3.40 1 -- 2.89
Vitamin A, RAE mcg_RAE 30 -- -- 26
Retinol µg 30 -- -- 26
Vitamin A, IU IU 100 -- -- 85
Fatty acids, total saturated g 1.660 -- -- 1.411
Fatty acids, total monounsaturated g 2.580 -- -- 2.193
Fatty acids, total polyunsaturated g 1.840 -- -- 1.564
Cholesterol mg 52 1 -- 44
Amino Acids
Tryptophan g 0.230 -- -- 0.196
Threonine g 0.900 -- -- 0.765
Isoleucine g 0.946 -- -- 0.804
Leucine g 1.669 -- -- 1.419
Lysine g 1.886 -- -- 1.603
Methionine g 0.608 -- -- 0.517
Cystine g 0.220 -- -- 0.187
Phenylalanine g 0.802 -- -- 0.682
Tyrosine g 0.693 -- -- 0.589
Valine g 1.058 -- -- 0.899
Arginine g 1.229 -- -- 1.045
Histidine g 0.604 -- -- 0.513
Alanine g 1.242 -- -- 1.056
Aspartic acid g 2.102 -- -- 1.787
Glutamic acid g 3.065 -- -- 2.605
Glycine g 0.986 -- -- 0.838
Proline g 0.726 -- -- 0.617
Serine g 0.838 -- -- 0.712

More information: