SCIENCE CITY OF MUÑOZ, Philippines—Having a hard time avoiding your craving for “chicharon” (pork skin crackling) this Lenten season?
Then, there’s “tilacharon,” a crackling variant made from tilapia skin. It’s deep-fried, seasoned and made crisp to taste like the real thing, minus the guilt in these days of abstinence from meat.
“We offer tilacharon as a healthy substitute for the traditional cholesterol-packed pork cracklings,” said Dr. Tereso Abella, director of the Central Luzon State University’s Freshwater Aquaculture Center (CLSU-FAC) here.
Abella, with the assistance of Dr. Ravelina Velasco, a member of the FAC staff, studied the use of tilapia skin for crackling and reported the results to the Philippine Council for Agriculture, Aquatic and Natural Resources Research and Development recently.
“It can be a substitute pulutan (appetizer or bar chow) to go with beer, wine or any other alcoholic or nonalcoholic beverage, or eaten like the regular pork chicharon,” he said.
The CLSU-FAC researchers said tilacharon required fresh tilapia, seasoning and cooking oil. The tilapia is gutted, cleaned and butterfly-sliced so the skin can easily be removed.
The fish skin is then washed and boiled for about four minutes, then sun-dried for about 30 minutes. The skin is sprinkled with iodized salt and pepper.
Food coloring is sometimes added to minimize the fish skin’s scaly appearance before it is deep-fried. The tilapia meat can be served in fillet and may be used for other dishes.
Janet Orden-Saturno, chair of the aquatic postharvest department of the CLSU College of Fisheries, said she had introduced commercial production of tilacharon to her students.
“It is a hit among other students to whom they sold the product,” Saturno said. She has been urging her students, who are studying the entrepreneurial aspect of tilapia culture, to look for ways of using the byproducts of tilapia, like scales, bones, gills, entrails and head.
“I always emphasize to them that there should be zero waste for the tilapia,” Saturno said.
Another result of the trials for the use of the other byproducts of tilapia is the tilapia “halubaybay,” or fish sauce.
To make this condiment, the scales, fins, gills, head, bones, entrails and other discarded parts of tilapia are gathered and chopped finely and placed in a container.
Salt is added to the mix, which is left for two months to ferment. “It is much like the halubaybay in Pangasinan and other parts of the Ilocos region,” Saturno said.
“It is another product from our tilapia processing technology exercise, which the students can use to their advantage when they finish their fishery course,” Saturno added.
Tilapia, a freshwater fish introduced in the Philippines in the early 1950s, is widely cultured in the country. The Philippines is among the biggest producers of tilapia, joining China, Mexico and Thailand, according to CLSU-FAC researchers.
Tilapia ice cream
The tilacharon came after CLSU food technicians developed ice cream made from tilapia flakes.
The ice cream was introduced here during a tilapia food festival two years ago.
“Tilapia flakes are used as the main ingredient of our tilapia ice cream. It is an ice cream without a fishy aftertaste,” Dana Gutierrez-Vera Cruz, chair of the department of hospitality at the CLSU College of Home Science and Industry, said in an earlier interview.
No fishy taste
The fishy taste, she said, was eliminated by the other ingredients like walnuts (which can be substituted by peanuts), cream and cheese.
Vera Cruz said her concoction was the result of the challenge issued by Abella to teachers and students to come out with various dishes and refreshments using tilapia meat.
To make tilapia ice cream, all one has to do is to steam the tilapia, flake its meat and mix it in all-purpose cream, condensed milk, ground walnut and cheese, according to Vera Cruz.
The mixture, she said, should be frozen overnight and served in cones or cups.