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How to Cook a Bicol Express

Heavy on both heat and hyperbole, bicol express — a fiery Filipino dish named after a train that runs through Manila — has only a few ingredients, but each one compels you to take the ride. Pork belly, ginger, garlic, onions, siling mahaba and bagoong — a mix of the familiar and exotic — braise together in coconut milk until the flavors meld and the pork tenderizes.

You may find siling mahaba, a long light-green chili pepper, and bagoong, a fermented fish paste, at Asian markets. If you can’t, you get a reasonable facsimile of bicol express using Thai chili peppers and anchovy paste.

Bicol Express


Things You’ll Need

  • Vegetable oil
  • Onions
  • Ginger
  • Garlic
  • Pork belly
  • Bagoong or shrimp paste
  • Siling mahaba or Thai chili peppers
  • Coconut milk
  • Fish sauce


5 Steps to Cook a Bicol Express

Step 1 :: Heat 2 to 3 tablespoons of vegetable oil in a wide saute pan over medium heat. Saute about 1 cup of ginisa, or 2 parts minced onions to 1 part each grated ginger and minced garlic, until aromatic.

Bicol Express 01


Step 2 :: Add 1/2-inch-wide strips of pork belly, and saute until lightly browned. Add 2 to 3 tablespoons of bagoong and 5 or 6 sliced siling mahaba. Substitute fermented shrimp paste for bagoong and Thai chili peppers for siling mahaba, if necessary.

Bicol Express 02


Step 3 :: Stir to combine. Cook until the bagoong darkens to a deep maroon, about 2 to 3 minutes. Pour in 1 1/2 cups of coconut milk for every pound of pork belly, and bring it to a simmer.

Bicol Express 03


Step 4 :: Adjust the heat to low and cover. Braise the pork until tender, about 40 to 45 minutes.

Bicol Express 04


Step 5 :: Season to taste with fish sauce and kosher salt. A pinch of brown sugar stirred in at the finish tames the spiciness a bit.

Bicol Express 05


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