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Fish Soup with Sour Broth
  -   Sinigang na Isda / na Bangus / na Tilapia etc.
4 quarts  
1-1/2 hrs  
This soup is outstandingly delicious - don't let "Sour" or the lengthy notes scare you off - it's very mildly sour and quite easy to make. This soup is traditionally made with Bangus (Milkfish) but Tilapia is now also very popular, and other fish are used.



Fish, etc. (1)
Shellfish (3)
Tamarind Paste (4)  
Daikon Radish (5)
Green Chilis (6)
Water Spinach (7)
Stock, Fish (8)
Fish Sauce (9)
Prep   -  (45 min)
  1. Make Fish Stock from heads bones and fins. This can be done well in advance (see Note-8), or while doing all the cutting - fish stock takes only 30 to 40 minutes.
  2. Prepare FISH as desired (see Note-2) and cut into the size pieces you prefer.
  3. Prepare TAMARIND, if not using prepared paste from a jar (see Note-4).
  4. Scald TOMATOES one minute in boiling water, quench in cold water, peel and cut into chunks about 3/4 inches on a side.
  5. Quarter ONIONS lengthwise and slice thin crosswise.
  6. Cut DAIKON into half rounds or quarter rounds depending on size. Slice thin.
  7. Cut CHILIS as you like. They can be simply split, or sliced diagonally, or whatever.
  8. Slice GINGER very thin crosswise and cut into narrow strips.
  9. Rinse WATER SPINACH (or whatever green you will be using), remove oversize stems and cut into about 1-1/2 to 2 inch lengths.
Run   -   (45 min)
  1. In a 5 quart non-reactive soup pot, combine Stock with Onions, Tomatoes, Ginger and Tamarind. Bring to a boil and simmer for about 15 minutes.
  2. Stir in Radish, Fish and Shellfish. Bring to a boil over high heat, then simmer about 5 minutes.   Note:   If including vegetables more substantial than Water Spinach, for instance stems from bok choy, they may need to go in at this time.
  3. Stir in Water Spinach, Chilis and Fish Sauce. Don't overstir, you don't want to break up the fish. Bring to a boil over high heat and simmer no more than 2 minutes, by time it gets to a boil, it's done.
  4. Stir in Salt to taste. This will depend on the stock and how much fish sauce is used - my stock has no salt, so it takes a full teaspoon here. Serve hot.
  1. Fish:   Weight is cleaned, boned and without tails or fins. Shellfish are often included in Sinigang Isda (Fish), but just Bangus in Sinigang Bangus, etc. The traditional fish for this soup is Bangus (Milkfish), but that presents a problem for folks unaccustomed to eating fish who's flesh is full of spines (bangus, carp, shad etc.). Unlike a carp, you can debone a bangus, and you can buy it deboned and frozen in Philippine markets. For details see our Milkfish page. Tilapia is now also popular, and other fish with white or light colored flesh that stands up to wet cooking will work fine. Snakehead [Mudfish] is also excellent but the heads and fins don't make good stock. I would say Catfish too, though farming catfish is still new to the Philippines.
  2. Fish Preparation:   In the Philippines, fish are often just scaled, cleaned, and cut up crosswise into fairly large chunks. The heads are left on for extra flavor in the soup. Bangus is generally not boned and the spines are managed at the table. You may wish to do differently, using fillets, with or without skin depending on the fish. Since I usually serve buffet style, I use Tilapia fillets, skin-on and cut about 1-1/2 inches on a side. I use the heads, fins and bones to make the stock separately. In the case of small catfish, I might just use cross cut chunks and use stock made from other types of fish. For Snakehead, I'd use fillets skin-on and make stock from the bones and some other fish. In Asia it is permitted to use chicken stock in fish dishes.
  3. Shellfish:   If you don't wish to use shellfish, just increase the amount of regular fish by 10 ounces. Shrimp, squid, clams and mussels are appropriate.
  4. Tamarind Paste:   This can be prepared paste from a jar (good) or prepared by you from blocks of tamarind pulp (better). For details see our Tamarind page. Many Philippine recipes call for packages of Knorr or Mama Sita's Sinigang sa Sampalok powder. Those are imperfectly available in North American markets, but pure tamarind is very common. Some recipes call for a couple green tamarind pods, which may or may not be available frozen in Philippine markets. Others use Calamansi or other citrus juices, Green Mango or Guavas for the sourness.
  5. Daikon Radish:   Use a small one - big ones are OK raw, but tend to be fibrous cooked. Regular red or white radishes can also be used.
  6. Green Chilis:   Most recipes call for about "3 Finger Chilis" (Chili Pangsigang / Mahaba). These are not available in North America, so I use Serranos, but these vary wildly in hotness these days. They are supposed to be a bit hotter than Finger Chilis, but sometimes are real duds. Adjust to your own taste and the hotness of your chilis. For details see our Sili - Philippine Chilis page.
  7. Water Spinach:   [Ong Choy, Kang kong] This is widely available in Asian markets in California, and may be transported here without a permit, but is a controlled substance in many states. Substitutes include watercress, regular spinach, chili leaves, sweet potato leaves, bok choy, etc. For details see our Water Spinach page.
  8. Stock:   If you buy your fish whole, you can make the stock from the heads, fins and bones, even far ahead. For details see our Fish Stock page. I usually make the stock using more fish than needed for the recipe for a richer stock - and freeze the extra fillets. If you don't have whole fish, use water, 8 to 16 oz clam juice, and maybe a little extra Fish Sauce. Many recipes use water from washing rice rather than plain water.
  9. Fish Sauce:   This clear liquid is as essential to Southeast Asian cuisine as it was to Imperial Rome. For details see our Fish Sauce - Introduction page.
  10. Vegetables:   Different cooks include different vegetables, though Radish and Water Spinach are most common. Some include chunks of Taro root or Eggplants, and some season with lots of Garlic. Basically, though, keep it simple.
  11. Miso:   A major variation is to add Miso (Japanese fermented soybean paste). A couple of tablespoons or considerably more are used, depending on taste.
  12. Sauté:   Some recipes sauté Garlic, Onions and Tomatoes before adding the Soup Stock, then continue as above.
  13. U.S. measure: t=teaspoon, T=Tablespoon, c=cup, qt=quart, oz=ounce, #=pound, cl=clove in=inch, ar=as required tt=to taste
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