My son was very curious about the bottle of shrimp (krill) paste (bagoong alamang in Philippine language) I took out from the cupboard that was doubly wrapped in ziplock. A lot of questions ensued while I was unwrapping it with great care on the kitchen counter.
Perchè e' dentro la busta? Because its oil leaked. It's smelly and it stains.
Che cos'è shrimp paste? Sono piccoli gamberi? Yes, they are very small shrimp that are called krill. They are fermented, meaning left in large earthen jars for some time with salt for that they are smelly. They are eaten in Asia and is known with different names per country but it's not eaten in Italy nor the rest of Europe. Do you know that krills are eaten by whales too?
Davvero (accompanied with big eyes)? Yes! But not all whales. Only the ones with the curtain of brush-like teeth called baleen, hence these whales are called baleen whales. They go down to the bottom of the ocean, gulp the water and with the use of the baleen, they filter the krill and loosen them with their tongue then finally eat them.
Shrimp paste is the real epitome of pungency. Fortunately, someone thought of selling them already cooked and stored in bottles because cooking it from its raw form takes a long time and gives the house an odor that sticks for at least a couple of days. I used to hate the smell when I was young but I couldn't complain because I love bagoong. Being fermented, it is smelly and has a very strong flavor. These two qualities don't really attract everyone especially my husband and my daughter.
Binagoongan means cooked with bagoong. I never cooked it when I moved to Italy and resigned myself to enjoying it only when I am in the Philippines. But this changed when I saw Jun Belen's (Jun-Blog) beautiful pictures of the pork binagoongan. Reading through his recipe, a thought struck me. Why don't I just add the shrimp paste at the very end of cooking? That way, the smell won't permeate the kitchen. I also did a shortcut with the pork. In the classic way of cooking them, they have to be boiled for about an hour to make them tender before mixing in the shrimp paste. My husband despises the smell of boiled meat so I just used a thinner cut (about 1-cm. thick instead of the usual 1-inch thickness) and I fried them straight.
It came out so good even with the shortcuts and one important thing is that I was able to deviate from making the house reek of unpleasant smells. Needless to say, I am going to do this dish over and over again.
This dish is best enjoyed in the Philippines sprinkled with calamansi or calamondin lemons (replace with lemon or lime if you can't find them) and eaten with steamed white rice.
Crispy Pork Belly in Shrimp Paste (Pork Binagoongan)
Adapted from Jun-Blog's Pork Binagoongan (Deep Fried Pork Belly in Bagoong)
- 400 g. pork belly
- 2 cloves garlic, chopped finely
- 1 tablespoon salt
- 1 small onion, chopped finely
- 2 bay leaves
- around 5 cherry tomatoes or 2 medium tomatoes, diced (the tomatoes boost the flavor)
- oil for deep frying (canola, peanut, sunflower or safflower)
- extra virgin olive oil
- 1/4 cup cooked shrimp paste
- 1/4 pork stock from boiled pork (or vegetable stock if you are not boiling the pork)
- 1 chili (optional)
- In a pot of water, put pork belly, bay leaves, and salt. The water should just be enough to cover the pork. Bring to a boil and reduce to simmer. Cook for about an hour or until pork is tender.
- Drain the pork. Set aside 1/4 cup of pork stock. Pat the pork dry with paper towels and cut into 2-inch pieces. (You can also skip this part and go straight to frying if your pork cut is thin like I did.)
- Fill a pot with at least 2 inches deep of oil and heat the oil. Deep fry pork in small batches until brown. Take them out with a strainer and place on a plate with paper towels to absorb excess oil.
- Heat extra virgin olive oil in a pan over medium high heat. Saute garlic & onions until brown & softened, about 5 minutes. Add tomatoes and saute' for about 5 minutes.
- Add pork stock (or vegetable stock), chili (if using) and shrimp paste (I added my shrimp paste at the end of cooking.) Bring to a boil and simmer for 5 minutes.
- Add pork belly and combine well. Add shrimp paste. (I only added the shrimp paste at this point.)
- Serve warm with steamed rice & calamansi.