Kare Kare: A Traditional Filipino Dish
When Filipino diners think of weird cuisines, they share horror stories of balut, dinuguan (chocolate meat) or tripes, but Kare Kare isn’t on that list. However, for most Americans, Kare Kare isn’t a dish they would sample immediately, perhaps because of its oxtail ingredient or maybe its golden thick soup base, or the unusual vegetables such as sitaw or bok choy.
Kare-kare, a peanut-based sauce, is considered a traditional Filipino ox tail stew. Usually considered a speciality, Kare Kare varies from family to family and even region to region in the Philippines. It is devoured during the weekends, special occasions or celebrations and followed by a long afternoon siesta.
The ingredient of oxtail isn’t a favorite item on the list especially with the recent years of mad cow disease. Others cannot find this particular ingredient in mainstream grocery stores. Regardless, chefs have modified and included their version of ingredients in this popular Filipino dish.
The origins of Kare Kare varies in historical perspective. First, historians say the dish came from Pampanga, described as the culinary center of the Philippines. Others believe Kare Kare was served as a noble dish to the Moro elite, who once settled in Manila before the arrival of the Spaniards.
Another origin states that this traditional dish is credited to the Indian curry introduced by Indians, who lived in the area of Cainta, Rizal and it is also somewhat similar to the Indonesian dish called Gado-Gado. And the name Kare Kare is derived from the Japanese word Kare which may have been contributed by the Japanese while doing business in the Philippines during pre-colonial times.
These different origins describes the cultural mix of heritages within the Filipino people. So why not show up in food, too?
At first, chefs will find the entrée daunting and complicated. But if you compare this with other stews, it’s not too difficult at all. Cooking the dish requires three components:
1. First is the meat, which is usually oxtail but it can also be done with other cuts of beef such as beef shanks or short ribs, or a combination of both. Sometimes tripe is also added.
2. Second is the sauce which is made of sliced onions, finely ground peanuts, toasted ground rice and the annatto seeds (mainly for color).
3. The last is the vegetables which include banana flower bud or heart, eggplant, string beans, okra or bok choy. This is a dish that you could either hate or love because of its naturally bland flavor and the type of peanuts or even peanut butter that you use would make a huge difference. And Kare Kare should be served with bagoong, a pungent and salty condiment of fermented shrimps. Without it, you might as well cook something else.
• 3 packages ox tail (2 lbs.) – 6 lbs. total
• 4 Asian (‘Oriental’) purple eggplant (Chinese Ma-Zu and Ping Tung work well)
• One fistful (approx. 14 pieces) of long string beans (sitaw)
• 4 small bok choy
• 1 large onion
• 1 package Mama Sita’s Stew Base Mix (Pang Kare-Kare)
• 1 jar peanut butter
• Salt (2 tsp. or to taste)
• Pepper (2 tsp. or to taste)
ESSENTIAL COOKING GEAR:
• 1 8-qt. pot (if you have an extra one, plan on using it. if not, don’t worry.)
• 1 collander or strainer big enough to hold 6lbs. of ox tail, and, later, your vegetables
• 1 pan
This stew tends to be on the fatty side if you don’t trim the oxtail; if fat is an issue to you, trim the excess fat. After you trim each piece, rinse it under running water and put it in your 8 quart pot. If you do not wish to trim your ox tail pieces, simply rinse them and place them in the pot.
Fill the pot with enough water to cover the pieces. Bring to a boil, then continue boiling for 15 minutes.
Then pour out the first boil and rinse the meat to further remove fat and dirt that hasn’t been cleaned off. After you rinse the meat, fill the pot with enough water to cover the oxtail,and boil it for a second time.
If you have a second 8-quart pot handy, bust it out. If not, keep the meat in a collander or strainer and clean your pot to remove the fat you’ve boiled out.
Put your meat into the pot and fill it with just enough water to cover the oxtail pieces. Begin cooking on a high flame. Add approx. 2 tsp. of salt and approx. 2 tsp. of pepper.
While the stew starts to cook, chop your large onion. It doesn’t mater how—rings or large chunks work fine. Dump your chopped onion into the pot.
Bring to a boil. Boil for 15 minutes, and then continue to cook, covered, letting it simmer on a medium flame for 1.5 to 2 hours.
Remember to stir periodically.
Note: How long the stew is cooked will determine how tender the meat will be—1 hour yields harder meat, 1.5 yields fairly tender meat, 2 hours should be incredibly tender meat. (In our household, we prefer and recommend cooking it on the tender side.)
The next steps are meant to be done as the stew is cooking. Keep an eye on your timer. These steps coincide with particular time marks.
While the stew is cooking, cut and clean your eggplant, boy choy, and sitaw. If you are unfamiliar with some of the vegetables and how to handle them, some basic guidelines are provided below:
EGGPLANT: Clean each eggplant. Cut off the ends and any damaged portions. When you chop it, all pieces should be approximately 2.5 inches long. Cut any larger pieces into quarters.
BOY CHOY: Chop off ends. Clean individual bok choy leaves.
SITAW: Snap ends. Clean, then break sitaw with hands so that you are left with pieces about 2.5 inches long.
Peanut base: Empty approximately 2/3 cup of peanut butter into a large bowl. Pour the package of Mama Sita powder onto the sauce. Pour three cups of broth from the stew into the bowl.
Mix well. Before you pour the peanut base into the stew, remove any excess broth from the pot. Ladle out the excess until only 3 cups remain. Now pour your peanut base into the stew.
Stir and gradually add the vegetables into the stew. Stir as you add each. Cook for 30 minutes more. Grab some rice, and some bagoong, and enjoy.
Of course, if you don’t have the time, head to Sunburst Grill at 2295 S. Chambers Rd, Aurora, CO 80014. They served this dish as part of its lunch and dinner selections.
Mary Jeneverre Schultz, who owns several Filipino cookbooks, isn’t bold enough to cook for her Mom or Grandma.