"Kusina" = Kitchen; "Manang" = older sister

A Filipina's unabashed chronicle of her adaptations in the American kitchen. Includes step-by-step photos on how to make pan de sal, ensaymada, pan de coco, siopao, hopia, pandelimon, pianono, atsara, crema de fruta,etc., and if you are lucky, you will find videos too!

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Thursday, February 05, 2009

Tilapia in Sweet & Sour Sauce (Escabecheng Tilapia)

From Tilapia in Sweet N Sour Sauce
My recipe here is probably so unconventional for the typical Filipino, because of one ingredient not usually found in a Pinoy's pantry: the excess juice coming from canned whole tomatoes.

My younger son celebrated his 11th birthday recently. For the kids' birthday celebration, lasagna is the most requested dish. One ingredient for the lasagna is two quarts of drained(self-)canned whole tomatoes (you can also buy these in grocery stores, FYI). As you probably are now aware of, ang pagka-Ilokana ni Manang, humihirit. I did not want to throw away the juice drained from these. I kept them in the fridge, planning to make sweet and sour sauce, to pour over fried fish. I actually came up with two quarts of finished SSS, and I kept one jar in the fridge for the next Pinay gathering. The rest, I poured onto a whole (head and all) fried tilapia we had two days after. I warned my hubby to stop by somewhere on his way home to get himself something for supper, and not to be afraid to be late. I told him the boys and I were going to eat a head, so we better eat ahead. (pun intended! haha!)

If you do not ever plan to do canning of tomatoes, or to use store-bought canned whole tomatoes, you might not have a use for this recipe. However, if you do plan to can pasta sauce, cooking only the more solid parts of tomatoes and draining off excess juice, you might want to gather that and try canning and processing your own SSS for future use.

Ingredients for SSS:
1-3 tbsp oil
3 cups tomato juice (drained from whole canned tomatoes)
6 tbsp vinegar
2/3 cups sugar
2-3 tbsp tapioca flour (depends on the consistency you want; dissolved in some water)
1 carrot, julienned
1/2 each of red and green bell peppers, cut into strips
2-3 tbsp ginger, julienned
1 medium onion, sliced
1-2 tsp salt (to taste)
some drops of Worcestershire sauce
some soy sauce

[Note: If I will experiment in the future to can SSS, then I would add the last two ingredients only during reheating, as I do not know how they will affect the pH.]

Fish, slit on sides (2-3 lbs)
salt to marinade the fish while you heat up the wok
cornstarch to dredge fish in just before frying


From Tilapia in Sweet N Sour Sauce
Prepare the SSS. Heat oil on med high. Sautee ginger then onion, then add veggies. Add the tomato juice, vinegar, and sugar, and season with the rest of the spices to taste. Add tapioca-water mixture in thin stream until you achieve your desired consistency. Set aside 1 pint in a clean jar and refrigerate if you can't use all. Use the remaining for 1 big fish.

From Tilapia in Sweet N Sour Sauce
Heat wok over high for about 5 minutes (or until very hot). Add oil and heat on high. Dredge fish in cornstarch and shake excess off. Deep fry for about 5 minutes one side (or until browned and crisped good), then flip and cook another 5 minutes, covered. Turn off heat and immediately take out fish and let oil drip from it by placing on a cooling rack (do not let fish sit in the oil or it will absorb much of the oil as it cools down). Pour 1 qt of the SSS over the fish. Serve over plain rice.

Note: If you plan to use filets as pictured above (like haddock filet), cut to size, season with salt and pepper, then dredge in cornstarch. Deep fry for less than 10 minutes, flipping halfway through cooking time. Remove and let drain.


  1. hi manang!
    i was searching for siopao recipe when I found your blog. Nabuhayan ako!! I know there are ways to cook all the food that I miss even though we're halfway around the world.
    I am making guinataang bilo-bilo right now. closing my eyes for buying frozen saba >:/
    but I already bookmarked your site.
    Will try the recipe. wish me luck!
    Angel in Jax, FL

  2. Hi Angel,
    Nice to meet you!
    It makes me wonder if you have a recipe for guinataang bilo-bilo!
    I was able to get several canned saba. I have not seen any frozen ones here.

  3. Your "Eat a head/eat ahead" pun was really funny! Thanks for this recipe - I've thrown out leftover juice b/c I didn't know what to do with it after I used the tomatoes. I don't know how to can properly yet so how long would you say the SSS might last in a regular container in the refrigerator?

  4. TN,
    I think if you use a container that will allow minimal air trapped above the sauce (as in punong-puno to the brim), the sauce will most probably last more than two weeks. There is a tendency to have molds on top if you have too much air (although you can just skim the top off and reheat the sauce fully prior to using). Of course, try to put the freshly cooked, very hot sauce in the container and cover right away (sort of like "sterilizing" the container). Refrigerate soon after.

  5. hmm looks yummy, though. I havent tried eating tilapia. maybe one day i should try..

  6. Hi eden,
    If you have the pinoy palate, I am sure you will love tilapia. Isn't Australia teeming with a variety of fishes?

  7. Manang..you're the best. Tried the ampalaya recipe, hubby liked it. He's not Pinoy. Now I will again "attempt" to cook.. this time, this tilapia recipe. Thanks!
    Pam NYC

  8. Hi Pam,
    Thanks (although I do not see myself as the "best." I do try my best here. Hehe! Enjoy!
    BTW, does your husband cringe at the sight of fish head on the table?

  9. Husband is half Honduran and spent summer vacation when he was a child in the islands.. so fish head doesn't scare him a bit. He looks the other way though when I eat the head like a cat. Hehe!
    Pam NYC

  10. Oh wow, the best escabeche I've ever tasted.
    You rock. I did your escabeche sauce and my, my, naubos ka-agad. I didn't use fresh tilapia, but used 4 frozen fillets (fairly large size). That was a good idea to use the sauce and canned tomatoes. It was excellent. Thanks very much!

  11. Hi sharon,
    Thanks! It is such a wonderful feeling to have someone actually try and like what I did not expect anyone to pay attention to.
    Glad you and your family liked it!

  12. Hello! I have been looking on your recipies and actually tried the Chicken and Corn Soup.We all liked it!Especially my husband and my 4yr old picky eater daughter..hehehe..
    Anyway,I was going to ask you something about this recipe Escabeche.Can I use any other kind of fish like Red Snapper? My husband is just not a fan of Tilapia.hehehe and also about the tomatoe juice drained from a can of a whole tomatoe,is that the only way to make the sauce? It's ok if I really have to use the whole canned tomatoe to make the tomatoe juice..I'm just wondering if there's an alternative..hehehe

  13. Hi Anonymous,
    How I wish I could find red snapper here! You can definitely use that instead of tilapia. I myself am a big fan of red snapper. I think it is even better for sweet and sour fish.
    As for the sauce, there are actually a lot of recipe using tomato sauce or paste plus water and vinegar. I just used the drained juice from the canned tomatoes because I did not want to throw it away after using for lasagna. I did love the resulting sauce using that. If you would still like to use the same thing, you can just make stewed tomatoes or marinara sauce from those tomatoes. My sons love stewed tomatoes (actually just ginisang kamatis), and I love it with sardines and/or eggs (mala-sarsiado).

  14. Hello Manang! ask ko lang sana,how much tomatoe paste I need to use on this recipe? ala kasi akong mahanap na whole canned tomatoe eh..I think naubusan sila..hehehe...anyway,I remember you mentioned na I can use tomatoe paste or sauce..so I just want to know the measurement on it..would it still be the same as the canned tomatoe?
    Thanks Manang and God Bless!!

  15. Hi Anonymous,
    You can try using 1 small can of tomato sauce plus 2 cups water instead of the tomato juice.
    Or you can look just for tomato juice in the juice isle of the grocery stores.

  16. Thanks Manang! I made this recipe the night I sent you this question coz I thought you'll be able to respond to me before I started cooking the Escabeche..hehehe..but it's ok though..I followed everything on your recipe..I used a small can of tomatoe paste mix into the 3 cups of water coz your tomatoe juice is 3 cups so I thought I would do the same thing..hehehe..the outcome was great..my husband liked it but I he don't really enjoy much eating fish with bones and heads coz it'll slow him down trying to get the bones off the fish..hehehe..next time,I'll let them fillet the red snapper but I still want to get the head..coz I love to eat it! hahaha

  17. Hi Anonymous,
    Thanks for your feedback that use of the tomato paste with 3 cups water worked out great.
    I have some leftover tomato paste, and I have 2 tilapias waiting for me to fry (I will do tomorrow), so I just might do the same thing since I am not using canned whole tomatoes this time.
    I also love the head, as well as the tail basta malutong!!!!Haha!


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