Bicol Express is pure comfort food! With pork cubes cooked in coconut milk and chili peppers, it’s rich, creamy, spicy and delicious! Serve with steamed rice for a hearty and big flavored meal!
The day after I made my very first gising-gising, I packed half of it to work for one of my co-workers to try. She is from Bicol, and I was interested to know what she thought of my newfound recipe. Alas! Instead of the rave review I expected, she barely touched the portion I ladled on her plate.
The next day in the break room, she plopped a big Tupperware in front of me and said, “This is how you do spicy. Go big or go home.” Oh. My. Gaawwd! Her Bicol Express was so viciously hot I couldn’t feel my tongue after each bite and yet it was so deliriously good I kept digging in for more!
I first posted my version of this dish in May 2014, but although it has received great reviews from our readers, I am updating it now with a few changes. I wanted the recipe to be as authentic as possible, and after researching online and asking all my Bicolano friends for guidance, I think the new method below comes pretty close.
One of the changes I made to my previous recipe is adding about 2 cups of sliced finger chilis along with the 14 reasonably large red Thai chili peppers (siling labuyo), and the result is definitely not one for the meek. My mouth was seriously on fire while I was eating the savory pork for lunch today!
You can decrease the number of peppers or scrape the seeds off the pods before mincing if you want to tone down the spice, but as my Bicolana friend said, it’s NOT Bicol Express if it’s not numbing your tongue. In fact, the authentic version uses more chili than pork!
If you want the same creamy flavors but with a friendlier heat, you can try this binagoongan baboy sa gata instead.
Another change is using fresh instead of sauteed shrimp paste and it does tastes so much better. Bagoong is a big flavor component in this sinilihan dish so don’t skip it.
Tips on Making Bicol Express:
- To make slicing easier, freeze the pork belly until partially firm.
- If you’re in the U.S. and have only access to the bottled “neon pink” shrimp paste, you might want to rinse it and drain well before using in the recipe to rid of the extra saltiness and the bright color that might otherwise bleed into the dish.
- Coconut milk tends to curdle or separate when brought to a boil or heated too quickly. Cook in a gentle simmer to ensure a smooth, creamy sauce.
- If you’d like to add vegetables, you can use cut sigarilyas, long beans (sitaw) or string beans.
- As you can see from our nutritional facts below, this recipe is not exactly waist friendly. Unfortunately, the delicious pork belly cubes and rich, creamy coconut sauce we love come with a price. If you want to trim down some of the calories, swap the belly with a leaner cut such as pork shoulder. You can also sub the pork with boneless, skinless chicken!
- 1 tablespoon canola oil
- 1 onion, peeled and sliced thinly
- 4 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
- 2 pounds pork belly, cut into 1-inch cubes
- 2 tablespoons fresh shrimp paste
- 1 can (13.5 ounces) coconut milk
- 1 cup water
- 14 pieces Thai chili peppers, stemmed and minced
- 2 cups finger chilies (siling haba), sliced
- 1 cup coconut cream
- salt and pepper to taste
- In a wide pot over medium heat, heat oil.
- Add onions and garlic and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened.
- Add pork and cook, stirring occasionally, until lightly browned.
- Add shrimp paste and cook, stirring occasionally, for about 1 to 2 minutes.
- Add coconut milk, water, and chili peppers. Bring to a simmer and cook for about 35 to 35 minutes or until pork is tender and liquid is reduced and begins to render fat.
- Add finger chilies and cook, stirring regularly, for about 1 to 2 minutes.
- Add coconut cream and continue to simmer until thickened and begins to render fat.
- Season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve hot.