A rich stew of ox tail, face, leg, tripe or all of them together, and a variety of vegetables in a sauce flavored and thickened with roasted ground peanuts (peanut butter is just as good!) and toasted rice flour. Because if the lengthy cooking time, kare-kare is considered a special occasion dish and that makes it a staple in family gatherings especially during the holidays.
Traditionally, as in during my grandparents’ time, kare-kare was cooked with freshly ground roasted peanuts and rice. Well, there’s nothing like cooking it that way, but I find the procedure too much for today’s busy lifestyle. The easiest option is, of course, to get one of those ready mixes that are abundant in supermarkets. I’ve tried a couple brands. The problem was I didn’t have much control over the taste of the cooked kare-kare. The mix determined the final thickness, flavor and color of the dish. If you’re as particular as I am, well, you look for another option.
So, one time I bought “peanut butter” from the wet market. This “peanut butter” is coarser than the bottled variety and unsweetened. It is not made for sandwiches but is sold particularly for cooking kare-kare. Well, the grains were pretty obvious in the sauce and I didn’t like that either.
It was so frustrating that I actually stopped cooking kare-kare for more than a year. Until one day when my mother-in-law asked if we wanted a huge jar of peanut butter that she didn’t know what to do with. My husband, who’s a real peanut butter fan, gladly accepted. The jar was so huge (2 k.) that after a few weeks, it was just sitting, forgotten, way inside the refrigerator. Now this was sandwich peanut butter. Sweet and smooth. I debated for a while then decided to use it for kare-kare. Guess what? I finally found the perfect peanut butter for my kare-kare. The slightly sweet flavor of the sauce was reaallllyyy great especially because I season my kare-kare sufficiently. Kare-kare is usually under-seasoned because it is traditionally served with bagoong (shrimp paste) and the necessary saltiness comes from the bagoong. But I am allergic to it along with other crustaceans — shrimps, lobsters, crabs, prawns… So, I don’t touch the stuff. That’s why I always season my kare-kare well. And that’s why sweetened peanut butter is so perfect.
As to the ground roasted rice, well, I don’t particularly feel like grinding rice with a mortar and pestle. I have a supply of rice flour in the pantry. I toasted half a quarter of a cup in the skillet, mixed it with stock and it did the trick — color, thickness, flavor. I’ve been using this little trick for a long time now.
When I cook kare-kare, I boil the vegetables separately in the stock in which the meat has cooked. The cooked vegetables are arranged in the serving bowl with the meat and the peanut sauce is poured in. I prefer this method because I have better control over the texture of the vegetables and it’s a good way to prevent overcooking them. The following recipe, an updated version of an old one published in 2007, uses that method.
If you’ve never cooked kare-kare before but would like to for the coming holidays, it might be a good idea to practice well ahead of time.
- 1.25 kilograms ox tail, tripe, leg or face (or a combination of two or more of these)
- 1/2 head of garlic
- 1 whole onion
- 2 bay leaves
- 1/8 cup annato seeds (or 1 tbsp. of annatto powder)
- 1/2 head of white cabbage
- 1 bunch pechay (pei tsai or bok choy)
- 1 bunch sitaw (yard-long beans)
- 2 eggplant
- 1 small puso ng saging (heart of banana plant)
- 1/2 cup peanut butter
- 1/4 cup rice flour
- 6 to 8 cups beef stock
Rinse the ox tripe, face, tail or leg well. Place in a large casserole and cover with plenty of water. Bring to a boil, removing scum as it rises. Season with salt. Add the bay leaves, garlic and onion. Cover and simmer until tender, about 4 to 6 hours. Alternatively, use a pressure cooker or a slow cooker. If using a different parts of the animal, chances are they won’t cook to the desired tenderness at the same time (the tripe will cook faster than the rest). Inspect the progress of the meat, scoop out the parts that are done, continue cooking the rest, and so on. When all meat is done, scoop out and transfer to a covered bowl. Set aside and keep hot.
Strain stock and measure 6 cups (you may need less but it’s better to be prepared).
If using annatto seeds, add them to the stock while still hot. Leave to allow the seeds to expel its beautiful color. Skip this step is using annatto powder.
Cut the cabbage half into 2 and remove core. Cut off the roots and 1/2 inch of stalks of pechay and discard. Cut of the roots of sitaw and cut into 2? lengths. Discard the tough outer layers of puso ng saging and cut inner layers into 2" x 2" pieces (see banana heart: how to trim and prepare). Cut the eggplants into 2" x 2" cubes.
Place the rice flour in a skillet and toast over medium-high heat until lightly browned and nutty in aroma. Set aside.
Strain the stock and discard the annatto seeds. Bring to the boil (if using annatto powder, add it now) and add the vegetables in the following order with a 2-minute interval: sitaw, eggplant, puso ng saging, white cabbage and pechay. Scoop out the vegetables and arrange in the serving bowl alongside the meat.
Meanwhile, mix roasted rice flour with 1/2 c. of stock. Mix the peanut butter with another 1/2 c. of stock.
Reheat the stock in the pan. Pour in the rice flour mixture, stirring as your pour. Cook until a bit thickened, about three minutes. Stir in the diluted peanut butter. Simmer for about five minutes. Adjust the seasonings, if you like.
Pour the sauce over the meat and vegetables. Stir. Serve hot with bagoong alamang (shrimp paste), if you like.