Filipinos’ devotion to their mother’s or cook’s food is notorious. It is always the best and, often, the only version worth eating. My cousin Bunny lives in Manila, about 200 kilometres from the family home. On trips to the capital, my tito and tita bring care packages of Bunny’s all-time favourite, binagoongan, which she stashes in the freezer to portion out until their next visit. I hear this kind of story all the time.
Filipinos go gaga for binagoongan. It combines two of their most cherished foods – deep-fried pork and bagoong (shrimp paste). The key to this recipe is the guisado base of garlic, onion and tomato. Don’t rush the process, particularly with the tomato; you want to slowly cook it down for a sticky, almost caramelised, finish.
- 600 g (1 lb 5 oz) boneless pork belly, skin on
- 1 onion, quartered
- 6 cloves garlic, smashed
- 3 bay leaves
- 2 tbsp fine salt
- 1 tsp whole black peppercorns
- vegetable oil, for deep-frying
- 1 handful chilli leaves (optional)
- steamed rice, to serve
- 250 g (9 oz) cherry tomatoes
- 60 ml (2 fl oz/¼ cup) vegetable oil
- 6 cloves garlic, crushed
- 1 onion, finely chopped
- 2 tbsp sauteed shrimp paste (bagoong alamang)
- 1 long green chilli
- 2 red bird’s-eye chillies, thinly sliced on the diagonal
Oven temperatures are for conventional; if using fan-forced (convection), reduce the temperature by 20˚C. | We use Australian tablespoons and cups: 1 teaspoon equals 5 ml; 1 tablespoon equals 20 ml; 1 cup equals 250 ml. | All herbs are fresh (unless specified) and cups are lightly packed. | All vegetables are medium size and peeled, unless specified. | All eggs are 55-60 g, unless specified.
To par-cook the pork, place it in a large, deep saucepan and pour in enough cold water to cover. Bring to the boil over high heat, skimming any scum from the surface. Add the onion, garlic, bay leaves, salt and peppercorns. Reduce the heat to low, cover, and cook for 1 hour, or until fork-tender. Transfer the pork to a shallow dish and allow to cool. Strain the cooking liquid, discarding the solids, and reserve 250 ml (8½ fl oz/1 cup) to make the sauce. Discard the remaining cooking liquid.
To deep-fry the pork, fill a large, deep saucepan or wok one-third full of vegetable oil and place over medium–high heat until the oil reaches 180°C (350°F). Pat the pork dry using paper towel and cut into 2 cm (¾ inch) wide lengths, then into 1.5 cm (½ inch) pieces. Working in batches, gently lower the pork into the hot oil and deep-fry for 3 minutes, or until the meat is golden and the skin is crisp (ensure the oil returns to 180°C between each batch). Remove with a slotted spoon and drain on paper towel. Break pieces in half and set aside.
To deep-fry the chilli leaves, if using, return the oil to 180°C. Deep-fry the leaves for 20 seconds or until crisp. Remove with a slotted spoon and drain on paper towel.
To make guisado bagoong, halve five of the tomatoes and reserve. Cut the remaining tomatoes into quarters. Heat the vegetable oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the garlic and cook for 30 seconds, or until fragrant, then add the onion and cook for 4 minutes, stirring until soft. Increase the heat to medium–high, add the quartered tomatoes and cook, stirring and mashing them for 10 minutes, or until completely broken down and starting to caramelise. Add the sautéed shrimp paste and cook, stirring, for 2 minutes.
Stir in 190 ml (6½ fl oz/¾ cup) of the reserved pork cooking liquid, bring to the boil, then add the deep-fried pork belly, green and red chillies, and the reserved tomato halves. Cook for 3-4 minutes, or until the pork is warmed through. Add the remaining pork cooking liquid according to your preferred finish of wet or dry.
Transfer the binagoongan to a serving bowl, garnish with fried chilli leaves, if desired, and serve with steamed rice.
Binagoongan takes its name from the principal flavouring ingredient, fermented shrimp paste, known as bagoong alamang. Binagoongan comes in various forms. Like many ulam, such as adobo, it is prepared “wet” or “dry”, either soupy, or reduced with little to no sauce. A classic “wet” variation of binagoongan replaces the deep-fried pork (lechon kawali) used here with boiled soft pork and uses fresh shrimp paste in place of guisado bagoong (sautéed shrimp paste, onion, garlic and tomato).
Recipes and images from 7000 Islands by Yasmin Newman, published by Hardie Grant Books, rrp $49.95.