Need an alternative to your usual beef stew? Try pochero — a Filipino pork belly stew stock full of vegetables with a hint of sweetness from plantains.
What is pochero?
Pochero (or puchero) is a delicious stew that combines Spanish and Filipino flavors. This hearty dish is made with a tomato-based sauce, a medley of vegetables, and tenderized meat. Its history dates back to the 16th century when the Spanish colonized the Philippines.
The dish’s name “pochero” is derived from the Spanish word “puchero,” which means “stew pot.” I believe the dish itself was heavily inspired by the Spanish dish called “cocido.” Cocido is a stew that originated in Spain and is typically made with beef, vegetables, and chickpeas. Over time, as locals added their own ingredients and flavors to the original Spanish recipe, pochero evolved into a uniquely Filipino dish.
I actually haven’t had pochero in about 22 years, since I migrated to the U.S. Honestly, I’m not sure what protein is traditional with this dish. But, I do remember mostly eating pork pochero back in the Philippines. So, when I started introducing my American husband to the lesser known Filipino dishes, I decided to make this pork belly stew.
Can I use other proteins?
Filipinos love their pork, so there are a lot of dishes in my home country that use pork. I typically don’t eat a lot of pork, and that’s the only reason I chose pork belly for this stew. However, you are totally free to use other proteins of your choice. Beef stew meat is a great alternative, and you would just need to simmer it longer to make sure it’s tender enough. Alternatively, I’ve seen other versions of pochero made with chicken drumsticks or bone-in chicken thighs. It’s really up to you, but just remember to adjust your cooking time depending on the protein.
Do not omit the plantains!
You probably thought it was weird to see plantains in a stew dish. However, it’s actually a more common ingredient in regions outside the U.S. I’ve seen plantains used in Caribbean dishes and South American dishes. Plaintains are significantly starchier than regular bananas. While they may resemble bananas, you should not use the same cooking treatment for plantains. If you’re unfamiliar with plantains, cook them similarly to how you would cook potatoes.
For me, pochero is not pochero unless it has plantains. They just add that slight sweetness that helps balance the savoriness of this stew. To use plantains in pochero, it’s essential to select ripe ones. Ripe plantains should be black or very dark brown and slightly give when pressed. Unripe plantains won’t be sweet enough, while overripe ones will be too soft and won’t hold their shape in the stew.
What vegetables should I use?
The most common vegetables I’ve seen used in pochero are: bok choy, cabbage, and green beans. You can also add carrots and potatoes if you’d like. For the cabbage, you can use regular cabbage or Napa cabbage — either will work. I happened to only have Napa cabbage on hand so that’s what I used. Traditionally, Filipinos also add chickpeas in the pochero. I don’t particularly care for chickpeas so I omitted those in the recipe. However, you’re more than welcome to add those in if you like them.
- 1.5 - 2 lbs pork belly, cut into 1.5-inch chunks
- 2 medium tomatoes, diced
- 1 small onion, chopped
- 1 tbsp minced garlic
- 2 tbsp fish sauce
- 1 tbsp soy sauce
- 1 tsp ground pepper
- 1 cup tomato sauce
- 2 plantains, cut into 2-inch chunks
- a handful of green beans
- 1 medium carrot, sliced thin
- 2 cups napa cabbage (chopped), or 1 whole regular cabbage (quartered)
- 2 bunches (~ 8 oz) baby bok choy
- 3-4 cups of water
- In a deep, wide pot, heat up 2 tbsp of olive oil on a medium-high heat stove. While your oil is heating up, pat dry the pork belly chunks and lightly season with salt on all sides. Once the oil is hot enough, sear the pork belly chunks until it's lightly browned on all sides. Set aside.
- Lower the heat to medium. Sauté the onion and diced tomatoes until the onions become transparent. Add the minced garlic and keep sautéing for about 30 seconds or until the garlic becomes aromatic.
- Put the pork belly chunks back in the pot. Pour the fish sauce, soy sauce, and ground pepper evenly over the pork belly chunks. Stir everything in the pot. It's gonna smell a little funky, but don't worry -- the pochero won't taste fishy or anything. Let the pork belly absorb the flavors for about 2-3 minutes, stirring occasionally.
- Add the tomato sauce and let it coat everything in the pot. Cook for about a minute. Pour 3 cups of water in and stir everything. Raise the heat to medium high and let everything come to a rolling boil. Once it gets to that point, lower the head to medium low. Cover the pot with a lid and let it simmer for about 25 minutes.
- Once the 25 minutes are up, add the plantains, carrots, and green beans. Stir everything then put the lid back on. Let it cook for 15 minutes.
- After 15 minutes, taste and make sure the salt level is okay. If the sauce has reduced too much, you can also add the remaining 1 cup of water. Consistency should be like a stew, not too loose like a broth. Season with salt to taste. Check if the pork belly is tender enough to your liking. If it needs more time, add another 5-10 minutes with the pot covered.
- Add the bok choy and cabbage, carefully mixing it with everything in the pot. Cover the pot again with the lid and cook for about 2 minutes. Serve with rice and enjoy!
Looking for more Filipino recipes? Browse here!
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