Austin chef Paul Qui spent his first 10 years in Manila before his family moved to Virginia. “When I was a kid in the Philippines I ate really good Filipino food every day,” the winner of Top Chef Season 9 says, “and as an occasional treat my parents would take me to McDonald’s and KFC.” But when he came to the States, that ratio was pretty much reversed: Since Qui’s parents worked a lot, he lived on a steady diet of fast food, with only the occasional dish of home-cooked adobo or dinuguan as a special treat. Qui’s version of the vegetable stew known as pakbet—also called pinakbet—is an example of the kind of food Filipinos eat at home. He starts by frying pork belly in a heavy pot, then removes it and cooks shrimp paste until it’s fragrant, along with other aromatics. Finally, vegetables are added and cooked until tender.
What to buy: Used as both a condiment and a cooking ingredient, Filipino sautéed shrimp paste (bagoong alamang) is pungent and salty. Kamayan, available in most Filipino markets, is a reliable brand.
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- Yield: 4 to 6 servings
- Total: 1 hr 10 mins
- 4 ounces skinless pork belly, small dice
- 1 tablespoon Filipino sautéed shrimp paste
- 4 large shallots, thinly sliced (about 1 cup)
- 1 medium Anaheim chile, seeds and ribs removed and cut into 1/4-inch-thick strips
- 12 ounces kabocha squash (about 1/4 medium squash), peeled, seeded, and large dice
- 8 ounces tomatoes (about 2 small), cored and large dice
- 8 ounces Chinese or Japanese eggplant (about 1 large), trimmed and large dice
- 8 ounces okra, stems trimmed and cut into 1/2-inch rounds
- Kosher salt
- Freshly ground black pepper
- Place the pork belly in a Dutch oven or large, heavy-bottomed pot over medium-low heat and cook, stirring occasionally, until browned and crisp, about 20 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer to a paper-towel-lined plate; set aside.
- Increase the heat to medium, add the shrimp paste, and cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant, about 2 minutes. Reduce the heat to medium low, add the shallots, and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 3 minutes. Add the chile and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 2 minutes.
- Add the squash, stir to combine, cover with a tightfitting lid, and simmer until the squash starts to soften, about 10 minutes. Add the tomatoes, stir to combine, cover, and simmer until softened, about 5 minutes. Add the eggplant, stir to combine, cover, and simmer until just cooked through, about 10 minutes. (If the stew is looking a bit dry at this point, add 2 tablespoons of water.) Add the okra, stir to combine, cover, and simmer until the okra is crisp-tender and bright green, about 10 minutes.
- Remove the pot from the heat, add the reserved pork belly, and stir to combine. Taste, season with salt and pepper as needed, and serve immediately.