It seems redundant to call this dish guinataang paco fern considering that paco is the local name for the tender sprouts of vegetable fern. Yet, a lot of recipes on web refer to it that way — paco fern. It is vegetable fern, an edible fern to be more precise, and we call it paco in the Philippines. Ambulant vendors used to pass by the house and my father would buy bunches of paco from them.
These days, paco is rather hard to find in the market. So when I saw bunches at the supermarket earlier today, I took two and cooked them for dinner.
Some people like to prepare paco as a salad; personally, I haven’t tried that. My father used to cook paco with pork and coconut cream and that was how I was introduced to this vegetable.
This is how paco looks like:
I understand that there is more than one variety of edible fern; I think this is the one called Diplazium esculentum. If you search Google for images of Diplazium esculentum (like this one in Wikipedia), you will notice that it does not even remotely resemble the one in my photo. That may be because the fern in the photo is a different variety. Or it may, in fact, be Diplazium esculentum but looks different because the edible portions of the fern are the tender sprouts rather than the mature leaves. I don’t really care about all that; I’m a cook and my real interest in the plant is the fact that they are edible and incredibly delicious. So let’s just skip all the scientific blah-blah and proceed to the cooking part.
For 400 grams of paco, you will need about 150 grams of pork, a whole head of garlic, a thick slice of ginger, one large or two medium-sized tomatoes, two finger chilis, and one large or two medium-sized onions.
Cut the pork into small pieces, peel and mince the garlic, peel and slice the onions, dice the tomatoes, break the chilis in half and peel and finely slice the ginger.
Heat two tablespoonfuls of cooking oil in a pan and throw everything in. Never mind sauteeing the garlic and onion first, you’ll get the same result.
Cook over high heat until the vegetables start to soften and the tomatoes start to render its color.
Pour in about two tablespoonfuls of patis (fish sauce), stir, lower the heat, cover and simmer for about 30 minutes or until the pork is tender. There is no need to add water. The patis and juices from the pork and vegetables are enough.
While the pork cooks, trim the paco by separating the soft and tough stalks. Discard the tough stalks.
Above, that’s how the pork and sauteed vegetables looked after 30 minutes of simmering. They ready for the next step.
Add the trimmed paco to the pot.
Pour in 3/4 to one cup of coconut cream. Stir. Cover and simmer until the paco stalks are tender, about 10 minutes. Taste the sauce, add more patis if necessary.
And that is the cooked dish. The paco has rendered some of its color turning the coconut cream sauce a shade of light green. Cooked, the paco is a bit crunchy (well, unless you overcook them) and slippery and tasty.