Bicol Express–despite its name being specific to the Bicol region–is popular almost everywhere here in the Philippines. It is a common dish you’ll find from the local karinderya to some fancy restaurants. And with this, everyone has their own variation of the dish usually adjusted to their own liking.
That’s why this dish is something you can make if you want to make your loved ones feel special! Of course, we can help you along the way as you can follow our recipe of the legendary Bicol express!
What is Bicol Express?
Bicol Express is basically a type of pork stew which is specifically made to be creamy and spicy at the same time. This creaminess and spiciness is achieved by adding coconut milk (gata), shrimp paste (bagoong alamang), and lots of chilies to the stew.
It is made for the people who want a pork stew which is spicy, but also want to balance it out with mild sweetness. And this is the result of that. With the right combination, it is definitely something Filipinos are hardly able to resist.
Everyone would automatically think that Bicol express originated in Bicol. Which is not a hard thing to believe, since Bicolanos also have similar dishes like this and people there commonly love to eat spicy food.
But you will still wonder why it is called Bicol Express? There are documentations–although not confirmed–that the dish actually came from Manila, in the district of Malate. And from there, the one who invented the dish named it Bicol Express after hearing the train on its tracks going to Bicol.
But despite all that, this dish is one which people from the Bicol region would be proud of. You might want to try out another Bicolano dish called the Laing, we have a recipe as well.
Variations of Bicol Express
Bicol Express is most commonly cooked with pork as its main ingredient. In this one, we use pork belly. But there are a lot of variations you can do with the dish in case you prefer something a little different.
You can use other parts of the pork if you want to. One common variation is the use of seafood instead of pork. This dish makes use of shrimp, squid, or even mussels. Chicken can also be used as a substitute for pork if you want to have a less fatty option.
How To Cook Bicol Express?
Cooking Bicol Express seems intimidating, but it is actually easy to prepare. It will only take about an average of one hour to prepare the whole thing and you’ll only need to cook in one cooking pot for the duration of it.
It is pretty simple and straightforward! All you have to do is add in your ingredients one-by-one in the cooking pot. In this recipe, we add in the pork early in the process for its flavor to rise for this dish.
Notes On Ingredients
Alamang is the ingredient preferred in this recipe for its availability but you can use the actual salted shrimp since it provides more flavor to the dish. Make sure to do a taste test before adding this to your cooking pot.
If you find it too salty, you can wash it with water to reduce the salt content.
Coconut milk (gata) and coconut cream (kakang gata) which you can get in cans is acceptable for this dish. but if you have the time, you can also make your own coconut milk and coconut cream if you want more control to the creaminess of the Bicol express
We have an article that includes everything you know about these two here: Gata Vs. Kakang Gata
Chilies used here are the common ones, such as siling haba and siling labuyo. Remember that you can always control the spiciness of the dish depending on how you want it to be. And you can always use other types of chili if you want something milder or something spicier.
For a quick reference about this recipe, see the recipe table below:
Authentic Bicol Express Recipe
- Cooking Pot
- 1 kg pork belly, cut into small slices
- 1-2 tbsp fresh bagoong alamang (shrimp paste), see notes on ingredients above
- 2 cups coconut milk (gata), see notes on ingredients above
- 1 cup coconut cream (kakang gata), see notes on ingredients above
- 2-3 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 pc small-sized onion, chopped
- 3-6 pcs siling haba (green/ finger chilis), thinly sliced
- 4-8 pcs siling labuyo (bird’s eye/ Thai chili), thinly sliced
- black pepper, to taste
- 1 tbsp cooking oil
- Pour the cooking oil in a cooking pot and apply medium heat.
- When the oil is hot enough, add-in the garlic and onion and saute.
- When limp and aromatic, add-in the pork meat slices.
- Cook for 5 to 7 minutes or until light brown.
- Add-in the bagoong alamang. Make sure to do a taste test before adding this. If it is too salty for you, try washing with water to reduce the saltiness.
- Pour in the coconut milk. Make sure all the meat is covered with coconut milk. If not, add more coconut milk or water.
- Bring to a boil and cover the pot. Cook for about 30-40 minutes or until the meat is tender.
- Remove the cover and let the remaining coconut milk evaporate.
- Pour in the coconut cream, add-in the chilis (siling haba and siling labuyo) and the black pepper.
- Continue to simmer, uncovered, while stirring occasionally, until the sauce thickens and the meat begins to render fat.
- Remove from heat and transfer to a serving plate. Enjoy!