Much as we love Bicol Express here at home, and we do love it even more when cooked with crispy pork belly, the crackling-like skin of the pork loses its wonderful crispiness fast when soaked in the sauce for more than a few minutes. That means serve the dish immediately and eat fast.
But eating fast is not a good practice, is it? This is not the army. And pleasurable dining at home means enjoying meals in a leisurely fashion. So, I thought of a way to to enjoy crispy pork belly and spicy coconut cream sauce together with no need to eat in a rush.
What’s with the sprig of flowers and the lime wedges?
That’s basil flowers and they’re perfectly edible. The flavor and aroma are just like basil leaves but milder. Squeezing lime juice over a dish with coconut cream is something we picked up in Saigon. The citrus juice just adds a beautiful tang that makes the sweetness of the coconut cream sauce pop.
Secrets to an ultra tasty coconut cream sauce
There are three, actually. Secrets, I mean. The first is taking time to saute shallots, ginger and garlic with shrimp paste. And by sauteeing, I don’t mean just mixing them all together in hot oil. You have to saute over medium to medium-low heat, you have to stir often, and you have to wait until caramlization has set in.
It is only after the shallot pieces have turned translucent and you can smell the aroma of the spices permeating your kitchen that you pour in the coconut cream. Yes, coconut cream and not coconut milk. There’s a difference. And that’s the second secret. Since you’ll likely buy it canned, just make sure the label says coconut cream and not coconut milk.
The third secret is the seasoning. Season with fish sauce, not salt. Fish sauce is a fermented salty seasoning used all over Asia. While the strong smell may make you balk initially, that will mellow down during simmering. Fish sauce gives coconut cream sauce a depth of flavor that salt just cannot provide.
Crispy pork belly in coconut cream sauce
- 2 tablespoons coconut oil
- 2 shallots peeled and chopped
- 4 cloves garlic peeled and chopped
- 1 two-inch knob ginger peeled and chopped
- 1 tablespoon shrimp paste
- 2 cups coconut cream divided
- 4 to 12 finger chilies (depending on how hot you like your Bicol Express) thinly sliced or chopped
- fish sauce
- crispy pork belly
- sliced chilies to garnish
- 1 sprig Thai basil to garnish (optional)
- lime wedges to serve
- Heat the cooking oil in a pan.
- Saute the shallots, garlic, ginger and shrimp paste until aromatic, about five minutes.
- Pour in a cup of coconut cream.
- Add the chilies and about two tablespoons fish sauce.
- Stir and leave to simmer and reduce, uncovered, until reduced by about a third.
- Taste and add more fish sauce, if needed.
- Cut the crispy pork belly into cubes.
- Ladle sauce into individual bowls.
- Drop pork belly cubes into the sauce.
- Drizzle a little sauce over the crispy pork belly.
- Sprinkle in slices chilies and, optionally, garnish with a sprig of Thai basil.
- Serve with lime wedges on the side.