It seems redundant to call this dish guinataang paco fern considering that paco is the local name for the tender sprouts of vegetable fern. Yet, a lot of recipes on web refer to it that way — paco fern. It is vegetable fern, an edible fern to be more precise, and we call it paco in the Philippines. Ambulant vendors used to pass by the house and my father would buy bunches of paco from them.
These days, paco is rather hard to find in the market. So when I saw bunches at the supermarket earlier today, I took two and cooked them for dinner.
Some people like to prepare paco as a salad; personally, I haven’t tried that. My father used to cook paco with pork and coconut cream and that was how I was introduced to this vegetable.
This is how paco looks like:
I understand that there is more than one variety of edible fern; I think this is the one called Diplazium esculentum. If you search Google for images of Diplazium esculentum (like this one in Wikipedia), you will notice that it does not even remotely resemble the one in my photo. That may be because the fern in the photo is a different variety. Or it may, in fact, be Diplazium esculentum but looks different because the edible portions of the fern are the tender sprouts rather than the mature leaves. I don’t really care about all that; I’m a cook and my real interest in the plant is the fact that they are edible and incredibly delicious. So let’s just skip all the scientific blah-blah and proceed to the cooking part.
Guinataang Paco (Vegetable Fern in Coconut Cream)
- 150 grams pork belly
- 1 whole head of garlic
- 1 thick slice of ginger
- 1 onion or two shallots see the difference
- 2 tomatoes
- 2 to 3 finger chilies
- 2 tablespoons cooking oil
- patis fish sauce, to taste
- 400 to 500 grams paco vegetable fern
- 1 cup coconut cream see how to extract
- Cut the pork into one-inch pieces.
- Peel the garlic and mince.
- Peel the ginger and finely slice.
- Finely slice the onion or shallots, whichever you're using.
- Dice the tomatoes.
- Have the chilies.
- Heat the cooking oil in a pot. Saute the garlic, ginger, onion or shallots, tomatoes and chilies until softened.
- Add the pork to the sauteed vegetables. Cook until no longer pink. Season with fish sauce. Stir. Cover and simmer for half an hour or until the pork is tender. No need to add water at this point.
- The juices from the pork and vegetables should normally be enough. To be on the safe side, check the liquid after 15 minutes. If the mixture appears too dry, pour in a quarter cup of water.
- While the pork cooks, trim the paco by separating the soft and tough stalks. Discard the tough stalks.
- Add the trimmed paco to the pot. Pour in the coconut cream. Stir. Cover and simmer until the paco stalks are tender, about 10 minutes. Taste the sauce, add more fish sauce if necessary.
- And that is the cooked guinataang paco. The paco has rendered some of its color turning the coconut cream sauce a shade of light green. Cooked, the paco is a bit crunchy (well, unless you overcook them) and slippery and tasty.