It was the peanut-like aroma of the stew that grabbed me each time. Sunday suppers were spent with the family together enjoying meals like this. One of dad’s favorites was “Kare-Kare” (say ‘ka-reh ka-reh,’), the Filipino oxtail stew simmered low and slow in a peanut-based broth. The beef was so tender that it slid off the bone, further falling off the spoon, into the rest of the casserole of vegetables.
The steam was still floating from the casserole pan whenever it was laid on the dinner table. This was a rich, deep dish of varying vegetable textures and flavors that was best eaten while still piping hot. I used to love to pour the nutty sauce on a mound of steamed white rice and savor the sweetness of the peanut broth. Now and then, I’d dip my spoon into the accompanying shrimp paste. The “bagoong”, as it is known to Filipinos, provides the salty contrast that just hits the right spot while you’re enjoying the stew’s nutty sweetness.
Nowadays, when I see oxtail cuts in the supermarket, I buy some. I can never just walk away from it. The instinct comes from within me to go ahead and make some “kare-kare”. Once I have the oxtail, I head on over to the vegetable aisle and grab the necessary ingredients : eggplants, green beans, bok choy. I make sure to have enough peanut butter to flavor it all. And of course, a staple in most Filipino kitchens is the “bagoong” or shrimp paste and I am never out of it.
(Photo of shrimp paste in a slit of a fresh green mango, also a good side to this dish.)
One of the things missing from this Kare- Kare I made was the banana blossom. It is a red-purplish leaf-like vegetable shaped like an elongated heart. And rightfully so, in Tagalog it is named “pusong saging” ( translates to heart of the banana tree). Its vertical lines and coarse texture reminds you of corn husks. Now and then it is in season, and here in America, I can buy it from Asian groceries. But it’s not often and when it happens I have to settle for not having a substitute.
Why does this remind me so much of my Dad? Well, it is because it was one of his favorite dishes. My late parents enjoyed Kare-Kare a lot and often was the centerpiece of our family meals. Its thick, rich orange-like peanut sauce was a good base for all the meat and veggies that went in it. This was a weekend meal because it took a while to soften the meat cuts. You also needed to have the freshest vegetables go into the stew.
The Sunday suppers were the start of our week. In those days, our family gathered together to give thanks for our blessings. Like the rich, thick peanut sauce that held these stew’s ingredients together, our family meals sustained us . Back then, it was unheard of to rush to a ball game or some other sporting event like we do now. Sundays then meant family time that was precious, giving thanks for what we had and for the food on the table. This is why I love making the “Kare-kare” for my family. When we sit down to enjoy it now, I know life has come full circle.
Kare Kare : Oxtail Peanut Stew
- 4 pounds cut into 2 inch pieces oxtails
- 5 Tablespoons canola oil or oxtail fat
- 1 small head cloves peeled and mashed garlic
- 2 medium chopped onions
- 6 plum quartered tomatoes
- 3/4 cup creamy variety peanut butter
- 2 teaspoons salt
- 1 small optional (from the Asian groceries) banana heart
- 20 pieces cut into 2-inch pieces (from Asian groceries) long beans
- 3 pieces quartered lengthwise, cut into 2-inch pieces Chinese eggplants
- for serving steamed white rice
- for serving bagoong na alamang fermented shrimp paste
- 6 to 8 bunches coarsely chopped in 2-inch slices bok choy or Chinese cabbage
- 1 Tablespoon achuete seeds
- 1/2 cup hot water
- Wash the oxtails well and place them in a large saucepan with water to cover. Place over high heat and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer until the oxtails are fork-tender, about 90 minutes.
- Allow to cool. Then cover the pot and refrigerate overnight to separate the fat.
- The next day, skim and reserve the fat for sauteing. Take the oxtails from the broth. Reserve the broth for later use.
- Prepare the achuete water: soak seeds in a small bowl with hot water. After 30 minutes to an hour, pass the seeds through a sieve, reserving the orange-colored water for the saute.
- In a large saucepan, over medium heat, warm 5 tablespoons of the oxtail fat or canola oil. Add the garlic, onions, and saute for about 5 minutes.
- Add the tomatoes, achuete water and peanut butter and cook for 2 minutes or till tomatoes have softened.
- Add the reserved broth and cook for 15 minutes to blend the flavors.
- Add the oxtail and cook, uncovered for 20 minutes. Keep stirring the sauce so the ingredients do not stick to the bottom of the pan or get burned.
- Once the oxtail has blended well, add the long beans and eggplants and cook for 10 minutes. Add the bok choy last because this will take 5 minutes to cook. The stew should have a thick sauce, not too soupy, but just the right amount of gravy-like consistency.
- Serve Kare Kare over steamed white rice, accompanied with "bagoong"/shrimp paste on the side.
Recipe Notes: If using the banana heart (find them at Asian groceries), here's what Chef Romy Dorotan recommends:
- Fill a bowl with 3 cups water and 1 tablespoon salt.
- Peel the outer layers of the banana heart till you reach the pale-colored middle part of the heart. Cut the banana heart into 8 sections and immediately place in the water.
- Massage the pieces with your hands for 3 minutes to remove the bitter sap.
- Discard the soapy-looking liquid that emerges.
- Drain in a fine-mesh strainer, rinse and repeat the whole process. Taste a small piece and if there is any bitterness remaining, wash the banana heart again.
- Add the banana heart to the Kare-Kare stew at the stage when the oxtail has cooked in the peanut sauce for 20 minutes. Do this just before you add the long beans and eggplants.
Kare Kare, the old fashioned way:
- Chef Romy Dorotan recommends to toast rice, place the rice in a skillet over medium heat. Toast, stirring constantly, until lightly browned and aromatic, about 5 minutes. Cool, then finely grind in a spice mill or food processor. Add this ground rice, 1/3 cup crushed peanuts, and achuete water to the stew after you've added the banana heart and oxtail cuts. Cook for about 5 minutes till the stew is the right consistency.
- Availability : Shrimp paste and the Asian vegetables can be found in Asian groceries.
- Cooking Suggestions: My sister extends this recipe by adding chunks of pork shoulder cubes, if oxtail is too pricey. I personally add beef short ribs to the oxtail in this dish.