For over a month now, the weather has shifted back and forth between cold and really cold. The time of grilling and cold cuts is over. Now is the season for stews and casseroles. Heavy, warm, caloric…yum!
Since we’re warming up here (heh), I’m going to post one of my favorite Filipino spicy stews: Bicol Express.
It’s quite similar to the Thai curries because it’s made with coconut milk and chili peppers. But that’s where the similarity ends. The Filipino version is simpler, with visibly less ingredients but with the same amount of flavor.
Normally Bicol Express is made with 12 green chili peppers, but to buy so much can be a little pricey. So instead, I used a package of mixed chili peppers made of 3 green and 2 red pieces.
The red chili peppers are a lot spicier than the green variety, which I personally liked. Your tolerance may vary of course. But if you use less chili peppers, I’ll probably call you a wuss.
MATERIALS and METHODS
Bicol Express (serves 2-3)
- 250 g pork belly
- 10 – 12 pcs green chili peppers or 3 green + 2 red chili peppers
- 4 cloves garlic, finely minced
- 1 onion diced
- 3 tomatoes diced
- 1 thumb sized piece of ginger julienned
- 1 1/2 cup thick coconut cream
- 1/2 cup water
- 2 Tbsp cooking oil
- 1 Tbsp chopped cilantro or coriander
- 1 Tbsp chopped onion leaves or chives
- Fish sauce to taste
1 Dice the pork.
2 Cut off ends of the peppers and remove the seeds. Soak in salted water for 10 mins. Drain and cut into small pieces.
3 Heat cooking oil on skillet and cook pork until golden brown.
4 Add garlic, ginger, onion, tomato, and drained pepper.
5 Add cilantro and onion leaves.
6 Pour half cup of water and simmer for 15 mins.
7 At medium heat, pour coconut cream, cook uncovered, stirring occasionally. Adjust taste with fish sauce.
8 Simmer until there is only enough liquid to coat the solids in the mixture.
Chop instead of mincing. If you don’t have a mortar and pestle, Julia Child would probably lecture you on the importance of having one. I don’t have one. Neither do I have a garlic press. So instead of finely mincing the garlic, I just chopped them like a crazy woman. I chopped them up so fine the tiny pieces got stuck between my fingers, endearing me to my colleagues the next day.
Salt the pork before frying. It might be a good idea to rub salt on the pork before dicing and frying them. This makes sure that the meat won’t be bland after cooking.
Reduce water when using coconut milk. If you are using coconut milk instead of cream, add less water before simmering. I don’t necessarily measure the exact amount but if I were to guesstimate, I would use a little less than 1/4 cup. This is so that reducing the liquid wouldn’t take so long.
If you are not so keen about eating pork, you can use chicken or turkey breast instead. I have never prepared a vegetarian version of this, so if there’s anyone willing to try using tofu instead of meat, let me know how it turns out.
It wouldn’t be as tasty, but if you are too lazy to julienne the ginger, you can replace it with 1 tsp of powdered ginger. You can adjust the amount depending to your taste.
As with any South East Asian curry, or pretty much any South East Asian main dish, you MUST eat this with warm rice.