I’ve always wondered how Bicol Express could be cooked with lots of chilies but without making the dish too spicy that it practically scorches the mouth and throat. The answer was so simple I wondered why I never made the connection before — scrape off the seeds and membranes of some of the chilies. Gee, I wrote about that in If you want your chilies mildly hot instead of very hot — how could I not remember? Anyway, now I have, it’s time to post an updated version of my Bicol Express recipe (the old one is on page two).
Bicol Express is pork strips or cubes and siling haba (finger chilies) cooked with coconut cream or milk. Very rich. Very spicy. Some versions include ginger, some include dilaw (turmeric), some include bagoong or shrimp paste. I am allergic to shrimps, including bagoong, so I omitted it.
- 300 g. of pork (shoulder or belly), cut into one-inch cubes
12 to 15 finger chilies
1 large onion (or two shallots), peeled and thinly sliced
a thumb-sized piece of ginger, finely chopped
6 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
2 stalks of lemongrass, finely sliced (see tips)
3 to 4 tbsps. of cooking oil
1 c. of coconut cream (see how to extract coconut cream / milk or substitute powdered or canned)
patis (fish sauce), to taste
If you like a very spicy Bicol Express, just slice the chilies into thin rings.
If you want a Bicol Express that is just comfortably spicy, use less chilies. I could have simply done that. But chilies have a wonderful flavor and texture beyond the spiciness (not mention the color they add to the dish) and I really wanted to use a lot. The trick? Divide the chilies into two batches. Slit the chilies in the first batch vertically, scrape off the seeds and membranes then slice into thin rings.
Simply slice the chilies in the second batch into thin rings.
About the lemongrass, garlic and ginger. If you have the time or the inclination, you can mash them together using a mortar and pestle. I didn’t have the time so I just cut them all as finely as I could.
Heat the cooking oil in a pan. Add the pork and cook over high heat, stirring often, until no longer pink. Optionally, you can wait until the edges start to brown a little.
Add the ginger, garlic and lemongrass. Cook, stirring, until fragrant, about a minute.
Add the chilies and the onion. Stir. Season with fish sauce. Pour in about a cup of water (broth, if you have some, would be better). Bring to the boil, cover, lower the heat and simmer for 30 minutes or until the pork is tender.
Stir in the coconut cream. Adjust the seasonings. When the sauce starts to bubble, turn off the heat.
Serve the Bicol Express hot.
Cooking time (duration): 40
Number of servings (yield): 3
The recipe posted on April 22, 2006 is on page two.