Coconut milk and other products were eschewed by the health-conscious for years, because nutritionists claimed they were high in cholesterol. After more rigorous studies, they have reversed positions, and coconut is the new darling of healthy eating. As with every ingredient, it should be eaten in moderation, but if you want to splurge, try these coconut-rich dishes.
I first ate this spicy pork and coconut dish at what was once a very good Filipino restaurant in Tsim Sha Tsui. The place still exists, but it now serves European food, so I decided to make my own version. Most recipes call for the ingredients to be simmered together, 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 is moist, so don’t substitute Chinese dried shrimp.
1 onion, about 250 grams
8 large garlic cloves
20 grams peeled ginger
850 grams well-layered skin-on pork belly
30ml cooking oil
500ml coconut milk
150ml coconut cream
50 grams salted fermented shrimp,
or to taste
6-10 red bird’s-eye chillies, or to taste
2 green fresh jalapeno chillies, or to taste
Mince the onion and garlic, and finely julienne the ginger. Cut the pork belly into strips about 4cm wide and 1cm thick. Cut the bird’s-eye and jalapeno chillies in half lengthways, scrape out the seeds and slice into 3mm pieces.
Heat the oil in a pan until hot and add the pork strips in one layer: cook in batches, if necessary — do not crowd the pan. Cook until lightly browned then turn the pieces over to brown the other side. Set aside. Add the onion, garlic and ginger to the pan and stir for about a minute. Return the pork to the pan and stir in the coconut milk, coconut cream, shrimp and 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 white rice.
Flower crabs with lemongrass and coconut milk
Choose lively crabs that feel heavy for their size.
4 flower crabs, about 250 grams each
50 grams fresh ginger, in one piece
3 large garlic cloves
Half a medium-sized onion
2 red banana chillies
3 lemongrass stalks, juicy bases only
3 spring onions
30ml cooking oil
45ml fish sauce
200ml coconut milk
Fine sea salt and finely ground white pepper
Scrub the crabs under cold running water. Kill them by pushing a sharp metal skewer between their eyes. Pull off the top shell, then place it upside-down on a plate. Remove and discard the feathery gills from the body of the crabs. Cut each body into quarters.
Peel the ginger, put it on a chopping board, hit it firmly with the side of a cleaver and cut into several pieces. Chop the garlic. Cut the onion into 3mm slices and the chillies into 5mm slices. Remove and discard the hard outer leaves of the lemongrass, revealing the juicy cores. Place the cores on a cutting board, hit them with the side of a cleaver, then slice into thin rounds. Slice the spring onions into 3cm lengths.
Heat the oil in a wok over a high flame and, when it’s hot, add the ginger, garlic, onion and chillies. Stir-fry for about 30 seconds, then add the lemongrass, crab pieces, fish sauce and a little salt. Mix then cover the wok with a lid, reduce the heat to low and simmer for about five minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the coconut milk and spring onion and simmer for a few minutes, stirring frequently, until the crab is cooked. Add some white pepper then taste and adjust the seasoning, if necessary. Serve with steamed white rice.
Styling: Nellie Ming Lee