You can spot pancit palabok from a distance. Pink prawns and bright yellow eggs sit on a big bed of thick noodles orange-tinted from annatto (achuete) and green-flecked with fresh herbs. It is usually piled into an oversized platter known as bilao. The colourful dish is a party favourite and universally loved by Filipinos.
There are a few steps involved for these moreish pork and seafood noodles, but it comes together quickly. If you’re entertaining, prepare the elements in advance, then rewarm and toss just before serving; otherwise, the noodles will absorb the flavoursome sauce and the crunchy chicharon will become soggy.
400g raw king prawns, peeled + deveined, heads, tails + shells reserved for stock 100ml annatto oil
250g skinless boneless pork belly, cut into 1.5 cm pieces
1 squid tube, cleaned and cut into 5 mm thick rings
250g thick rice noodles or rice vermicelli noodles
1 onion, finely chopped
3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
2 tablespoons fish sauce
2 tablespoons cornflour
1 egg white, lightly beaten
150g chicharon, finely crushed
5 spring onions, thinly sliced on the diagonal
3 hard-boiled eggs, peeled and quartered
kalamansi or lemon wedges, to serve
Cut the prawns in half horizontally, leaving 6 whole. To make the prawn stock, use a mortar and pestle to gently pound the heads, tails and shells, then pour over 500 ml boiling water. Stir to combine, then set aside for 5 minutes to infuse. Strain the stock into a bowl, discarding the solids.
Meanwhile, heat 2 teaspoons of the annatto oil in a wok or large deep frying pan over high heat. Add the pork and stir-fry for 5 minutes, or until golden and cooked through. Remove with a slotted spoon and transfer to a plate. Heat another 2 teaspoons of annatto oil in the wok, add the squid and stir-fry for 2 minutes, or until just cooked. Set aside with the pork. Heat another 2 teaspoons of annatto oil in the wok, add the chopped and whole prawns and cook for 1 minute on each side, or until just cooked. Add to the pork and squid mixture and season with salt flakes.
To cook thick (palabok) noodles, half-fill a saucepan with water and bring to the boil over high heat. Add the noodles and cook for 10 minutes, using a fork to separate once softened, until al dente. Drain, then transfer to a large serving platter. Alternatively, for thin (bihon) noodles, place in a large heatproof bowl and cover with boiling water. Soak for 5 minutes, then drain.
Meanwhile, to make the sauce, heat 1 tablespoon of annatto oil in a wok over medium heat. Add the onion and garlic and cook for 4 minutes, stirring until soft. Add the prawn stock, bring to a simmer and cook for 5 minutes. Add the remaining oil and fish sauce, then cook for 1 minute. Dissolve the cornflour in 60 ml water in a small bowl, then stir into the sauce and cook for 1 minute, or until thickened and combined. Reduce the heat to low, then gradually pour over the egg white, whisking continuously to combine (white ripples will form); season generously with freshly cracked black pepper.
Pour the sauce over the noodles. Add half each of the pork mixture (reserving whole prawns), chicharon and spring onion, and toss to combine. Scatter with the remaining pork mixture, whole prawns, chicharon and spring onion, then top with the hard-boiled eggs. Serve with kalamansi.
Recipe: Yasmin Newman (extract from 7000 Islands)
Photography: Jana Liebenstein
Styling: Vicki Valsamis
Food styling: Caroline Griffiths