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Recipe Development: Pancit Palabok
Overview

Rex takes you through the layers that go into this classic noodle dish, heavily inspired by the waves of Chinese immigration that came through the Philippines. Noodle dishes are prevalent across the country, but Pancit Palabok is unique in the way it’s served (with the flavourings served on top rather than stirred through) and the addition of a shrimp infused sauce.

Development Stages

Key Components:

Noodles - given the name of the dish, the pancit (pahn-seet) or noodles are absolutely key to the identity of the dish. Toothsome, satisfying and simple, these glassy noodles need to be rinsed and washed so as not to become too starchy and clump.

Palabok Sauce - this sauce brings together the flavours of two of the Philippines favourite proteins - pork and shrimp. Salty, fatty and rich with stock made from shrimp shells, this sauce is the flavour base for the whole dish and invites you to use toppings from both surf and turf! The inclusion of Achuete, or Annatto seeds not only gives a reddish colour to the sauce, it also imparts an unmistakeable sweet, peppery flavour.

Toppings - Filipino food is famed for its customisable nature, and whether it is the culture of Sawsawan (various dipping sauces) or the use of aromatic toppings and garnishes, dishes aren’t finished once they come out the pan - the diner is encouraged to keep creating, tweaking and customising the dish to their own palate. Pancit palabok is a prime example of this with, crispy pork belly, smoked fish, juicy prawns, chicharron and even a soft boiled egg all making an appearance!

Teachings:

  1. Stock making - this transferrable skill allows you to take a base such as shrimp shells, chicken bones or vegetable trimmings, and extract as much flavour as you can to create a sauce or broth.
  2. Filipino flavour pairings - there is a variety of different competing flavours in this dish, so Rex will be teaching you how to successfully marry complimentary ingredients to create a dish greater than the sum of its parts.
  3. Plating - this dish can be a real showstopper when care is taken to present it well. Given the number of toppings, you need to make sure that each is visible so as to produce an appealing looking plate.

Make It Your Own:

Noodles - Pancit dishes vary from region to region, and so do the noodles. The Glassy Bihon noodles Rex uses are made from sweet potato, but can easily be replaced by thicker egg noodles, flat or thin rice noodles or even chunky udon. All these noodles require different cooking times but the same outcome is desired - loose and separated, with the starch thoroughly rinsed off each strand. The mouthfeel of each noodle differs slightly, so you will want to consider how the sauce will cling to each variety, and how it will support the toppings for each mouthful.

Protein - As Rex mentions, another classic Filipino noodle dish known as Pancit Malabon uses a wider variety of seafood such as squid, mussels and crab fat. This is only one variation of the dish, but you can get as playful as you like with combinations of seafood, meat or even a bit of surf and turf! Pancit Cabagan uses minced Carabao meat, but could easily be substituted for beef. This dish also lends itself well to using tofu or alternative meats, however these are less traditional in the Philippines.

Palabok sauce alternatives - Visayan variations of the dish have a far more soupy consistency to the sauce, whereas some regions use an almost Ragu-like texture, so don’t be afraid to really experiment with the different thicknesses you can create with different ingredients. And instead of using roasted shrimp shells you can easily use any number of meat bones, fish bones or vegetables to create a stock that you’re happy with.

Toppings - these garnishes are really down to your personal preferences - here Rex uses a surf and turf mix of chicharrones, soft boiled eggs, crispy fried mackerel and rendered lardons. But all you really want to do with these additions is add a little bit of texture to the noodles, so anything crispy like fried onions or garlic, fried tofu or nuts will give the mouthfeel of the dish a lift!

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Rex De Guzman
Filipino cuisine for a long time has been misunderstood and underrepresented so I'm working to bring attention to it.