Tender chunks of pork belly in a mildly spiced coconut cream sauce… Bicol Express just plain gets it!
Bicol express is amazing. There’s really no other way to put it. It has a creamy, coconut sauce that’s mildly spiced with red and green chillies. The pork is cooked to perfection so that it is so tender it almost falls apart. We’re talking comfort food at its best here.
What is bicol express?
This is a Filipino pork stew that’s famous for its creamy sauce and tender chunks of pork. You are going to want to use fatty cuts of pork for bicol express because the fat adds a lot of delicious flavour to the dish.
I used pork belly but you could also use pork shoulder. If you want to make this lighter, go ahead and use something like pork loin but you will miss out on some of the flavour that makes pork bicol the delicious and unique dish it is.
Bicol Express History…
There are a good number of explanations for the name of this ‘curry’ but the one I believe most is that it was named by a woman called Cely Kalaw. She had developed her own version of a similar curry for a cooking competition she entered in the 1970. The idea behind bicol express has much older origins, however.
Cely’s brother heard the Bicol Express train passing her restaurant and suggested she call it that. The rest is history though you might find other explanations.
How does this version differ from the original?
Actually, this bicol express recipe, from what I’ve read and heard from chef friends is much closer to the original than what Cely presented at the cooking competition.
I didn’t have any coconut cream on hand so I used block coconut in my recipe. Most recipes call for a good dose of cream coconut along with the coconut milk. This makes a much saucier dish and you could do that to if you prefer more sauce. Or just add a bit more water as the block coconut has plenty of flavour and will melt into the additional water.
If you do try the creamier version, please let me know what you think in comparison to my version. This recipe or one like it is going to go into my next cookbook and I want to ensure I get it right. So feedback please!
Do I have to use ginisang bagoong shrimp paste?
Ideally yes but you could also use a Thai or Chinese shrimp paste. You might want to use a little less though as they are stronger in flavour.
Step by step bicol express photographs…
If you like this bicol express recipe, give these a try…
- 2 tbsp rapeseed (canola) or coconut oil
- 1 large onion, finely chopped
- 6 cloves garlic, finely minced
- 1 thumb sized piece ginger, finely chopped
- 1 kg (2 lbs) pork belly, cut into bite sized pieces
- 2 tbsp ginisang bagoong shrimp paste
- 400ml (1 ½ cups) thick coconut milk
- 250ml (1 cup) water
- 5 red bird’s eye chillies, finely chopped
- 5 green chillies cut into rings
- 150g block coconut
- salt and pepper to taste
- Heat the oil in a large frying pan over medium high heat. When visibly hot, stir in the chopped onion and fry for about five minutes or until soft and translucent. Stir in the minced garlic and ginger and fry for another 30 seconds.
- Now add the pork and fry with the onion mixture until lightly browned. This should take about 3 minutes. Stir in the ginisang bagoong and fry for a further couple of minutes, stirring regularly.
- Add the water and coconut milk and bring to a simmer. Stir in the chopped red chillies and simmer covered for about 20 minutes. Remove the lid and add the block coconut and continue simmering for another 20 minutes or until the pork is really tender and the sauce has thickened. The block coconut will melt into the sauce as you do. Add a drop more water if the sauce is looking dry.
- Add the sliced green chillies and continue simmering until you have a nice thick sauce. Season with salt and pepper to taste to serve.