gastronomical delights #1: Bicol Express
December 12, 2006
For a long time now, I’ve always been wanting to write something culinary in my blog. But constraints from work prevented me from doing so. It’s only now that I have some free time that i can fully devote myself to cooking.
I’ve always been into cooking since my childhood days. I remember going to the public market with my cousins and buying strips of tenderloin beef and going back to my cousins’ place to prepare and fry it. i’d marinate the beef strips in soy sauce, calamansi and a little sugar, let it sit while we play and then fry it whenever we have consumed much of our young energy.
I do not know where i got my cooking genes. Of course, during the days of our great-grannies and grannies, everybody in town was cooking their own fare since restos were rare and far between. I got my cooking inclinations most likely from my yaya, who is also our family cook. she would sit me down in our dirty kitchen while she prepare the food for the day. sometimes, she would let me do something like sprinkling the salt, or the pepper, or the vetsin or let me fry my egg on my own. At the age of ten, I can fry the perfect sunny side up or experiment with milk or water on my scrambled eggs ala breakfast buffet style at the hotels. I’d experiment on my own yang chou fried rice when yang chou fried rice was still unheard of. I’d have these ideas during the family treks to fine dining restos and buffets at manila’s five-star hotels at that time.
It is just a pity I wasn’t able to continue with my culinary adventure when i entered college. But that’s another story altogether.
Going back to Bicol Express. I’m a fan of dishes with gata though my roots can’t be traced to Bicolandia. The first time I tried Bicol Express or any food that has gata in it was at a friend’s house. That was way back during my college days and this particular friend of mine traces his lineage to Sorsogon. I can still remember that very first bicol express as it was just yesterday. Can’t eat the darn thing. For starters, it was so hot! I was so hungry then I didn’t notice the mashed siling labuyo! it must have been a handful of siling labuyo. then because of the heat, i wasn’t able to to notice the taste of bagoong! and i’m allergic to alamang and everything crustacean! i not only burned my tongue, my face turned into a reddish, swollen chicharon, too! But what remained distinct then was the gata. I have never had food with gata until then and it was, after all the fuss, great!
So I decided to make my own Bicol Express without the bagoong and the handful of siling labuyo. Later on, my Bicol express has evolved without the fat and the oil. And as my taste buds have grown a little sophisticated (haha) and gotten used to spicy foods, i use a little less than a handful of sili and a little bagoong.
In preparing Bicol Express, for starters, you will need the following:
half a kilo lomo (pork tenderloin) i substituted this for the usual menudo cut. less fat, less oil.
half of a big white onion sliced. i love onions! and i love my onions raw! my natural sweetener. i tend to put more of it to any food i prepare. but for now, let’s settle for half of it.
ginger i’m not into measurements. i go by the taste. you can use around 7 slices of ginger.
garlic i love garlic! the smell, the taste… use 3 big cloves CRUSHED (a clove is a single garlic unit. a head is composed of cloves)
coconut milk or gata. freshly squeezed is much much better than the canned or powder variety. use half a cup to 3/4 cup of cocounut milk.
bagoong for this, you can use a teaspoon of barrio fiesta regular bagoong or my favorite EVER Sabina’s bagoong. if you want, you can forego the bagoong altogether and use salt or patis instead.
patis preferably Sabina’s patis alamang but you can use Rufina’s instead.
sili for this, you can use 2 long green sili (the pangsigang variety). Cut it into pieces, diagonally. Or not. If you want it hotter, use the siling labuyo variety. Of course, Bicol express is not Bicol express without the heat!
First, cut the lomo into strips or cubes, whichever you prefer. Sprinkle it with salt and pepper. OR, marinate it in patis as my preference. Tastes better, believe me. Use around 1 1/2 to 2 tablespoons of patis and mix well with the lomo. (tablespoon meaning the measuring tablespoon) Refrigerate it for at least 30mins. An hour is better.
Heat the wok on high heat. Pour a tablespoon of oil. Work on the wok in such a way that the oil can cover a wide area of the wok. Into the wok goes the crushed garlic, the slices of ginger and the onions.
Smell the aroma of crushed garlic and ginger. (that’s part of the cooking ritual. hehehe)
Now place the meat into the wok. Mix. still in high heat, let the lomo simmer in its own juices.
After 2-3 minutes, cover the meat in pork broth or water. Let it boil. Lower the knob to medium heat and let it simmer for about 15 minutes.
After the liquid has reduced into half its original content, pour in half a cup of coconut milk (gata). Let it simmer for another 10 minutes in low heat.
Mix in the bagoong and the sili. If you don’t want bagoong, use salt or patis as pampaalat.
Mix well. Adjust the taste by adding more salt or patis or bagoong.
Serve hot with a steaming plate of plain white rice.