It’s been a while that I have not eaten authentic Bicol Express. The pork-and-chili-in-coconut-milk dish is served in different versions in many restaurants in the country. To a Bicolano, however, nothing tastes better than Bicol Express cooked in the Oragon’s kitchen, where everything can swim in coconut milk or shine in coconut oil and look devilishly mouthwatering with a generous portion of chili. To that claim–nothing tastes better–my biased taste buds quite agree. Let this hobbit tell you about the Bicol Express he has grown up with in the kitchen.
The Bicolanos have a name for it: tinŭtŭ. It can be fish or meat or vegetable lavishly flavored with chili–the long ones or the smaller variety called labuyo–and cooked in coconut milk. The pork version is the so named “Bicol Express”.
What makes Bicol Express unique is the taste of “balaw” or alamang, tiny salted shrimps that almost coat the pork slices and give the dish a little pinkish appearance. This adds flavor to the meat tenderly cooked in coconut milk and gently browned when the milk has simmered and turned to oil. The best Bicol Express does not swim in white coconut milk. Every bite must be a perfect balance of saltiness and the hotness of chili, not too hot to the point that the flavor is overpowered, yet not too faint that it lacks the thrill.
4 cups chili pepper, seeded and sliced
2 cups thin coconut milk
1-1/2 to 2 cups fresh alamang (tiny shrimps)
1/2 lb. pork belly, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 medium-sized onion, minced
salt to taste
1 cup thick coconut cream
Cooking Procedures :
1) Soak chili in water. Let stand for 30 minutes and then rinse thoroughly. Drain.
2) In a skillet, mix thin coconut milk, alamang, pork, garlic, onion and salt.
3) Bring to a boil, lower heat and then simmer for 10 minutes. Add chilis and cook until half the liquid has evaporated.
4) Pour in thick coconut cream and continue cooking until oil comes out from the cream.
Makes 4 servings.