Bicol Express is a Filipino dish of browned pork cooked with finger chilies and coconut cream. Ultra hot, rich and creamy. Keto diet friendly if served without rice.
It turns out that Speedy makes better Bicol Express than I do. The secret? Literally frying the pork in its own fat until browned, crisp and the rinds puffed. It is only after the pork gets the ideal texture that the rest of the ingredients are added. If you cook Bicol Express the way Speedy does, you get better texture, flavor and color.
What’s the difference in texture if the pork is fried prior to simmering in coconut cream? When fried, the pork loses the mouth feel of boiled meat. Because the natural sugars in the pork has been allowed to caramelize, a rich crust forms around the pieces of meat. It’s called the Maillard reaction which I wrote about extensively in Do We Really Need to Brown Meat Before Braising or Stewing?
It is also the browning process that gives Speedy’s Bicol Express a richer color and flavor. After browning the pork, you get browned bits on the bottom of the pan that get mixed with the spices when you shift from frying to sauteeing. And when you finally pour in the coconut cream, you actually deglaze so that every bit of flavor gets mixed in the sauce.
It’s amazing how applying a French cooking technique to a traditional Filipino dish results in something that’s beyond lovely. It’s quite magnificent, really, even without the garnish which is just for visual impact. See, because you get a reddish-gold coconut cream-based stew rather than the usual pale version, the bits of chili that the pork was cooked with become hardly visible. And you need to garnish the dish with chili slices to make it more “visually understandable” that it is Bicol Express.
Speedy's Bicol Express
The secret to the best Bicol Express is in browning the pork until crisp before simmering with chilies in coconut cream.
Cut the pork belly into one-inch cubes. Separate any large chunks of pork fat.
Peel and finely slice the shallots.
Peel and mince the garlic.
Peel and finely chop the ginger.
Thinly slice the lemongrass (white and light green portions only; see visual guide for preparing lemongrass for cooking).
Thinly slice the finger chilies. If you prefer less heat, slit the chilies and scrape off the seeds and white pith inside before slicing (see if you want your chilies mildly hot instead of very hot). Reserve a tablespoon for garnish.
Heat a thick pan (Speedy used our carbon steel wok). Toss in the pork fat and cook over medium heat until you have about two tablespoons of rendered fat. Scoop out any remaining solids (it's chicharon!).
Add the pork cubes to the rendered fat and cook over high heat until well browned. Ideally, the rind should be puffed.
Add the shallots, garlic, ginger, lemongrass and chilies. Pour in a tablespoon of patis. Saute for a minute or so until aromatic.
Pour in the coconut cream. Add another tablespoon of patis. Bring to a gentle boil, lower the heat, cover the pan and simmer until the pork is tender and the liquid is reduced.
Taste, add more patis, if needed. before turning off the heat.
Serve your Bicol Express garnished with the reserved chilies.
Although bagoong (shrimp paste) is a traditional ingredient of Bicol Express, we omit it because there are two of us in the family who are allergic to it. We substitute patis (fish sauce).
If you want to see the recipe published on March 30, 2011, click the link to page 2 below.