Bicol express is a spicy Filipino stew consisting of bite-sized strips of pork meat with chilies, coconut milk, shrimp paste, onions, tomato and garlic.
The first time I tried this was when my mom served this for the first time to our eatery’s loyal customers. I was just 13 years old at that time, and I just came home from school after my morning.
I was very hungry, so when I saw that that was one of the dishes in our menu, I simply asked my mom for it. At first, it was too spicy, so I removed some chilies from my bowl. However, as time passed by and as chilies became more tolerable, I have learned to appreciate its spicy flavor.
History Of Bicol Express
As per my research, I found out that the dish was from Malate, Manila. It was invented by Cecilia “Tita Cely” Villanueva Kalaw, a native of Laguna but spent most of her childhood days in the Bicol region (a region in the Philippines known for its spicy cuisine) She introduced the dish in the 1960s with her brother Demetrio “Kuya Etring” Kalaw when they operated a restaurant on Oregon St., Malate, Manila which they named “The Mother’s Cooked Grove”.
In some interviews, she said some of their customers complained about one of their dishes as being too spicy. Thus, Tita Cely decided to create a new dish of coconut milk that she believed would suit our taste, and then the Pork Bicol Express was born. She named it after a Manila to Bicol passenger train service. Fast forward to now, the name just suits perfectly its history and its locality.
The Benefits Of Bicol Express Ingredients (minus the pork meat).
It might just seem like a plane coconut milk-pork strips spicy dish with lesser health benefits, but the 2 main ingredients below make so much sense.
Green chilies – are rich in minerals (potassium, manganese, iron and magnesium) These help control heart rate and blood pressure.
Coconut milk – improve your heart health by lowering your blood pressure, and it also helps you lose weight and helps in building muscles.
Therefore, both main ingredients are perfect complements to Pork meat, which is said to be one of the foods to avoid for healthy blood pressure.
Cooking Mistakes and How to Fix Them
Bicol Express makes your tongue sizzle for its spicy flavor, but what if the hotness climbs up to your head because your Bicol Express is too disappointing? Fix whatever that mistake is.
Here are some examples.
- Too bland – stews are prone to having a bland taste, especially because of the milk. If this happens, add an amount of shrimp paste, salt or fish sauce to your bland dish to bring out all the other flavors.
- Too Salty – contrary to the first one, this time it’s the saltiness that seems too much. To fix this problem, try to add more coconut milk to dilute salt.
- Too Spicy – this dish is basically spicy, just like other Bicolano dishes, but if you are a first-timer or if you simply have low tolerance to spicy food, this might be a nightmare. Thus, to counteract this, try adding more coconut milk or cream. It’s proven to be able to wash away spicy properties in chilies.
- Pork meat cuts- this might not be an issue for some, but some people, when they make Bicol Express, forget that they should cut meat into bite size pieces. When yours have bigger ones, simply remove the meat from the pan, then, cut it again into small strips,then after, put them back in the pan with an already cooked Bicol express sauce. However, make sure to boil for a few more minutes to make sure germs acquired from the second cut are killed.
Here are helpful tips to make your Bicol Express cooking a success.
- To make slicing easier, I freeze the pork belly until firm partially.
- Cut Pork meat into strips or small cubes, small enough that it won’t be dominating the visual appeal of the dish.
- Use low fire when cooking coconut milk as it separates or curdles when it’s heated too quickly! Thus, if you want a smooth, creamy coconut milk sauce, cook it slowly and gently!
- Aside from coconut milk, pork strips and chillies, you can also add other green vegetables such as winged beans, string beans, etc.
- Lastly, to avoid having problems with the taste, pour ingredients little by little into the pan, especially the taste agents. If you want to add fish sauce or shrimp, taste then add, and do that until you achieve the right balance.
What to Serve With Bicol Express
This dish is so hot that other dishes are attracted to it. Kidding aside, this is a kind of viand that can be paired with other types of viands, drinks or desserts.
Here are some samples to consider.
- Hot Steamed Rice – this would be graduating with flying colors if it was a school for dish’s best partners. Its being plain makes it a good flavor balancer.
- Fried fish – Bicol Express is already saucy, so to have something dry is just a logical partner. You can actually pour this dish’s sauce into your fish, and you’ll have a fish Bicol Express.
- Pandesal – this kind f bread is famous in the Philippines, usually eaten in the morning for breakfast. Thus, when you have some Bicol Express leftover from last night’s dinner, then, use it as the filling for this morning bread. Fill your pandesal with pork strips, then dip in the sauce.
- Milk- yes, I know your mind says Bicol Express already has coconut milk, but what I’m talking about now is a milk from a cow. Milk, as a dairy product, just washes away capsaicin, a property that makes chili spicy.
- Beer- when you are drunk and all you can taste is beer, you crave for something umami or savory, and you, especially, want something hot and spicy that will kick out your unsober spirit, so Bicol Express is the one to order as your Pulutan or beer’s side dish or drinking session’s appetizer.
- Leche Flan- after a hot and spicy meal, it’s time for rounding out with this delicious dessert. Leche Flan is sweet and has milk, both factors help lessen Bicol Express’ spiciness.
Check out more Filipino Food Recipes at Eat Like Pinoy!
Best Pork Bicol Express Recipe
- 1 tbsp cooking oil
- 1 pc onion peeled and sliced thinly
- 4 cloves garlic peeled and minced
- 2 pounds pork belly cut into 1-inch cubes or strips
- 2 tbsp fresh shrimp paste
- 250 ml coconut milk
- 1 cup water
- 14 pcs Thai chili peppers stemmed and minced
- 2 cups green long chilies (siling haba) sliced
- salt and pepper to taste
- Heat oil in a wide pan over medium heat.
- Sauté onions and garlic. Mix occasionally until softened.
- Put in pork and cook. Stir occasionally until lightly browned.
- Add shrimp paste and stir occasionally for about 1 to 2 minutes.
- Pour in coconut milk and water, and add chili peppers. Simmer for about 30 to 35 minutes or until pork is tender and liquid is reduced. Wait until fats begin to meltdown.
- Add green long chilies and stir for about 1 to 2 minutes.
- Sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste.
- Serve while hot. Share and enjoy!