"This colorful dish is a party favorite and universally loved by Filipinos," Yasmin Newman writes in the introduction to her recipe for pancit palabok, included in her new cookbook, "7000 Islands: A Food Portrait of the Philippines," published by Hardie Grant. Recipe and photograph reprinted with permission.
Thick rice noodles with pork, seafood and annatto sauce
3/4 pound raw king prawns, peeled and deveined, heads, tails and shells reserved for stock
1/2 cup annatto oil (recipe follows)
1/2 pound skinless boneless pork belly, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1 squid tube, cleaned and cut into 1/4-inch thick rings
1/2 pound thick rice noodles (palabok) or rice vermicelli (bihon) noodles
1 onion, finely chopped
3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
2 tablespoons fish sauce
2 tablespoons cornflour (cornstarch)
1 egg white, lightly beaten
1/3 pound chicharon (pork crackling), finely crushed
5 spring onions (scallions), 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 500ml (17 ounces or 2 cups) 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 60ml (2 fluid ounces or 1/4 cup) 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 onions, 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.
1 cup vegetable oil or 1/2 pound butter
1/2 cup annatto (achuete) seeds (see cook's note)
Cook's note: Annatto seeds are commonly found in Mexican tiendas, such as Guadalajara Supermarket at 220 Redbank Road in Goose Creek. They can also be ordered through online retailers.
Place the vegetable oil and annatto seeds in a frying pan over low heat and cook, stirring occasionally, until the mixture just comes to a simmer, about 1-2 minutes. If using butter, heat the butter until just melted, then add the seeds and cook for 1-2 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside to allow the flavors to infuse for one hour. Strain into an airtight container discarding the seeds, then seal with a tight-fitting lid. Store in the refrigerator for up to one week.