Filipino braised pork belly with coconut milk (Bicol express)
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Filipino braised pork belly with coconut milk (Bicol express)


Susan says

Bicol express is a delicious spicy pork stew that's rich with coconut milk. Most recipes for Bicol express call for all of the ingredients to be thrown together into the pot and simmered, but I prefer to brown the meat first, so the finished dish is less pale.

Different recipes use different quantities of coconut milk, coconut cream, chillies and seasonings (some use lemongrass; many don’t). I’ve come up with a recipe that suits my tastes, but feel free to adapt it to suit yours. The addition of salted, fermented tiny shrimp might seem unusual, but it adds essential umami and saltiness, so please don’t omit it. The Filipino version of the fermented shrimp is moist - it's sold in jars or bottles. Don’t substitute Chinese dried shrimp.

onion, about 250g (9oz), peeled
large garlic cloves, peeled
20g (¾oz)
peeled ginger
850g (1lb 14oz)
well-layered skin-on pork belly
30ml (2tbsp)
cooking oil
500ml (2 cups)
coconut milk
150ml (⅔ cup)
coconut cream
50g (1¾oz)
salted fermented shrimp
6-10, plus extra for the garnish
red bird’s-eye chillies (or another type of small, hot chilli, such as serrano)
2, plus extra for the garnish
green fresh jalapeno chillies

Mince the onion and garlic, and finely julienne the ginger. Cut the pork belly into one-bite cubes. Cut the bird’s-eye and jalapeno chillies in half lengthways, scrape out the seeds then thinly slice.


Heat the oil in a pan until hot and add the pork strips in one layer: cook the pieces in batches - do not crowd the pan. Lightly brown the pork pieces on all sides, then remove from the pan; brown the remaining pork the same way.


After browning all the pork, add the onion, garlic and ginger to the pan and stir for about a minute. Put the pork pieces back in the pan and stir in the coconut milk, coconut cream, shrimp and both types of chillies. Bring to the boil over a medium flame, then lower the heat, place a lid over the pan and simmer for about 45 minutes, stirring occasionally. Cook until the meat is tender, then taste the sauce and correct the seasonings, if necessary. Ladle the Bicol express into a dish, garnish with sliced chillies (if desired) and serve with steamed rice.


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