Bulalo (beef, bone marrow and vegetable soup)

This bulalo recipe was originally published in December 19, 2003. I am updating it because during our recent visit to Mahogany meat market in Tagaytay City, as I watched the butcher chop the whole beef shank that I had chosen, I realized that the secret to prevent the bone marrow from falling and liquefying in the broth was so obvious, and I wondered why I didn’t think of it before.

Bulalo can mean any of three things: 1) the marrow in the bone of the beef shank; 2) the cut of the beef, i.e., bone-in beef shank; or 3) the soup itself which consists of the bone-in beef shank and vegetables. The soup is a simple dish to prepare, really; but the flavorful broth and the texture of the meat makes it a treat.

If you intend to cook beef shank as bulalo, ask the butcher to chop the shank in such a way that you have one large piece with one end open — the chopped end — while the other end, the one where the leg had been cut off right on the joint, remains closed.

In classy restaurants, bulalo commands a high price. In the province of Batangas where selling beef and beef by-products is a major means of livelihood, roads are lined with restaurants and small eateries with bulalo as a specialty. In Makati City, there is a small eatery called Soseng’s–a sidewalk affair actually–where one finds yuppies and businessmen having a lunch of hot bulalo. Street parking is a common problem. There was one time when we had to park two streets away and wait for a vacant table for several minutes. That is how popular bulalo is among the Filipinos.

Ingredients :

1 piece of bulalo (bone-in beef shank), about 1 kg. in weight
1 whole onion
1 whole garlic
1 bay leaf
6-8 peppercorns
patis (fish sauce)
1/2 head of white cabbage
250 g. of potatoes

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Place the beef shanks in a large casserole. Cover with water. Add the whole onion, garlic (pierced in several places with a sharp pointed knife), bay leaf and peppercorns. Season with patis. Set over high heat and bring to a boil, removing scum as it rises. Lower the heat, cover and simmer for two hours (longer, for a more flavorful broth) or until the beef is fork-tender. Alternatively, pressure-cook for one hour and 30 minutes.

Using a slotted spoon, carefully remove the beef shanks and transfer to a tureen or serving bowl. Strain the broth. Reheat to boiling point.

Peel the carrot and potatoes and cut into chunks. Core the cabbage and cut in half. Trim the ends of the pechay. Add the carrots to the broth and simmer for 5-7 minutes. Add the potatoes and cabbage leaves and simmer for another 8-10 minutes. Lastly, add the pechay leaves and simmer for another 3 minutes.

Scoop the vegetables out and arrange around the bulalo. Pour in hot broth and serve at once.