Kitchen Adventures: Bicol Express (Pork stewed in coconut milk with bagoong and finger chillies)

I’ve always been in love with coconut milk as an ingredient. One of my favourite Filipino dishes is Pininyahang Manok (chicken stewed in pineapple and coconut milk), which melds the rich flavours of coconut milk with the tangy sweetness of pineapple. When I was considering what dish to make next that involved coconut milk, what I instantly thought of was Bicol Express! It’s one dish that I’ve always wanted to try my hand at but never did because it seemed intimidating. This time, though, I was ready to conquer it.

In what was in hindsight a rather foolhardy decision, I decided to go at it without a specific recipe. The end result was delicious, but the pork was rather chewy because I didn’t add water to the coconut milk, and so I couldn’t simmer the pork belly for very long. Otherwise, all went well!

Here’s my (sort-of) recipe, which serves only two because I was making it for Mikaius and I.

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 kilo pork belly, cut into half-inch chunks
  • 2/3 can of coconut milk
  • 2 1/2 finger chillies, stemmed and sliced into rings
  • 1/2 medium-sized white onion, diced finely
  • 2 cloves of garlic, minced
  • Shrimp paste, 1 teaspoon (or according to taste)
  • Salt

Instructions:

  • Sauté the garlic until it browns at the edges, then throw in the onion. Sauté until semi-transparent.
  • Add the pork, and cook it in the garlic and onion mixture until it’s slightly brown.
  • Stir in the bagoong and the salt. Stir those things around, make sure they’re evenly distributed!
  • Very carefully pour in the coconut milk and water. Don’t splatter yourself, and keep in mind that the liquid will cook down while it’s simmering on the stove – this is the part that I neglected! I basically tried to simmer the pork chunks until they were tender with only the coconut milk. After 30 minutes of simmering they were still chewy, but I was hungry and didn’t want to wait anymore. As a result, the pork chunks had great flavour, but were a bit on the tough side!
  • After pouring in the liquids, add the sliced chillies.
  • Cover and simmer over low heat for about half an hour, or until the pork chunks are tender.
  • Serve over rice or pasta!

While I did like the flavour that this dish had, one detail I’d change when I make this again is to add water to the coconut milk that I’m simmering the pork chunks in so that the meat isn’t so chewy. I’d also allocate more when making it – cooking when you’re getting hungrier and hungrier by the minute is not recommended at all! I’m also intrigued by the possibilities of this creamy, flavourful sauce – it just screams to be poured over spaghettini or linguini! Would it be delicious baked for a little bit? I don’t really know, but I will make sure to try that option next time!

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