Estofado is from the Spanish word estofar which means to braise in a covered pan. Yes, there is an array of Spanish estofado dishes but the Filipino adaptation is a fusion of the traditional Spanish cooking method, Chinese seasoning (soy sauce) and Filipino ingredients (saba bananas). The inclusion of vinegar and tomato paste among the seasonings makes this wickedly delicious stew a cross between adobo and afritada.
Estofado is fairly easy to prepare. You only need to throw the ingredients in the pan and let everything cook slowly together until the meat is tender. There are a few things, however, that can spell the difference between a good estofado and a great estofado.
The first is about browning the meat and sautéing the aromatics. Most recipes say sauté the garlic and onion, add the pork and cook until the meat is lightly browned. I find the procedure more than a little bit strange because by the time the meat is browned, the garlic would be burnt. So, I cook estofado differently.
First, I lightly coat the bottom of the pan with oil. I add the pork cubes in a single layer and cook them until the undersides are browned. By the time I flip them over to brown the other sides, the pork would have rendered fat which makes the next stage of the browning easier and faster.
Why brown the meat at all? Because the caramelization of the natural sugars of the meat adds flavor to the dish. And also because the meat holds it shape better (see Do we really need to brown meat before braising or stewing?)
When the meat is nicely browned, I add the aromatics. There is more fat in the pan by this time. I toss them all together and let the aromatics do their work. By the time the onion pieces turn translucent, it is time for the next step.
The liquids and seasonings go in next. There’s vinegar, soy sauce, tomato paste, brown sugar and just enough water to cover the meat. Once the mixture boils, I turn down the heat, cover the pan and let the meat braise with those wonderful seasonings and aromatics for about 40 minutes.
The flavors and colors of tomato paste and soy sauce will be absorbed by the meat. The sauce reduces and thickens, and heightens the flavors in it.
By the time the meat is almost done, I add the vegetables. Potatoes are traditional; I added carrots for more flavor and color.
Instead of sweet peas, I opted for green bell peppers which pack more flavor than peas.
While the vegetables cook with the meat, I fry sliced saba bananas in another pan.
By the time the vegetables are done and the pork is perfectly tender, I just toss in the fried saba bananas.
Now, for the printable version of the recipe.
- 2 tablespoons cooking oil divided
- 1 and 1/2 kilograms pork belly cut into two-inch cubes
- salt and pepper
- 1/2 cup chopped onion
- 6 cloves garlic peeled and lightly pounded
- 1/4 cup vinegar
- 1/4 cup soy sauce
- 1/4 cup brown sugar
- 2 tablespoons tomato paste
- 1 bay leaf
- 3 potatoes cut into wedges
- 1 to 2 carrots cut into wedges
- 2 green bell peppers
- 4 to 6 saba bananas sliced into thirds
Heat a large pan.
Coat the bottom of a pan with a tablespoonful of cooking oil.
Add the pork cubes to the hot oil in a single layer. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Cook over high heat until lightly browned. Flip and continue browning the other sides.
Add the onion and garlic to the pork. Cook, tossing often, until the onion pieces are translucent.
Pour in the vinegar and soy sauce. Add the tomato paste, brown sugar and bay leaf. Pour in enough water to cover the meat. Add more salt and pepper. Stir well.
Bring to the boil. Lower the heat, cover the pan and simmer the pork for about 40 minutes.
Add the potatoes and carrots to the meat. If the sauce is already too thick at this point, add about half a cup of water. You need the steam from the liquid to cook the vegetables.
After about five minutes, add the bell peppers.
Meanwhile, heat the remaining cooking oil in a non-stick frying pan. Fry the saba banana slices just until lightly browned in parts.
Add the fried saba bananas to the pork and vegetables. Toss.
Taste the sauce. The potatoes and carrots are likely to have soaked up a lot of the saltiness so you many need to add more salt.
Serve the estofado with rice or pan de sal.