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Saturday, October 24, 2009

Bicol Express



The chili is actually a berry, which is then culinarily used as a vegetable (e.g. capsicums) or as spice (like cayenne pepper). Capsaicin is what gives it intensity, measured in Scoville heat units. As a reaction to capsaicin, the body increases heart rate, releases some endorphins and perspiration. That's why it's believed to be good for you. Either way I don't see any harm in chilies (if handled properly! Those hands spiced with chilies and rubbed against the eyes - or some other sensitive body part - can be really really nasty. Not that it has happened to me. Err.)

Now if you really want your food spicy, then this dish is for you - a simple Filipino recipe made of long green chilies, garlic, onions and coconut cream. What better way to celebrate spiciness than make the chilies the real obvious star of the dish itself!

This is called Bicol Express. Bicol is a region in the Philippines known for its very spicy dishes, and "Bicol Express" is the name of the train service that goes to the region. There are various versions to the history of this dish, as well as the recipe itself, but one of the stories say that the dish was named such because people who enjoyed the dish during the early times heard the train leave while they were eating it - hence the nickname.


Move over chili con carne, and other spicy curries!

As I mentioned there are various ways on making this, but my version is based on how I remember my mother's cooking. I am sure I will never be a better cook than her, so I hope that I gave this dish some justice!

15 pcs long green chilies, chopped (the filipino "siling panigang" is light green in color)
400g pork, cut into cubes (i used pork chops because they had a bit of fat)
6 cloves garlic, minced
1 medium sized onion, chopped
1 tin coconut cream (i just used 165ml + 80ml water) - depends on how saucy or dry you would like your dish to be

Some people add ginger, or tomatoes, or some other vegetables like long green beans.


Anyway - for this version :

Chop chilies. Remove the membrane and seeds if you prefer to decrease the heat.


guess what i opted for


Brown the pork (my mom has a little technique - she would slightly boil the pork in a bit of water, until it reduces, dries, and just leaves the pork to render on its own fat - so no need to add extra oil. Boiling the pork makes it a bit softer to bite, but it would be crispy on the outside due to the frying process). She would set the pork aside to one part of the pan and saute the garlic and onions on the oil the pork had left behind. This reduces the need to do this on a separate pan - less clean up too!


nanay's technique revealed!
(pretty sure this would have been a common practice for other pinoy moms :D)

When onion is translucent, add the chilies and the coconut cream and water. Let simmer, until sauce thickens and the chili wilts a bit.



Serve with hot steamed white rice. And maybe a box of tissue on the side. And a beer perhaps.


Guess where that warm feeling is from. :)


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