Friday, August 20, 2010

Kare-Kare (Meat and Vegetables Stewed in Peanut Sauce)

My mom does not like beef so much. I believe the preceding statement alone, pretty much settles why we are using pork in this well-loved Philippine stew dish called “kare-kare”. Just like most Filipinos, I also prefer the succulent meat from oxtail (“buntot ng baka”), or the delicate tripe (“tuwalya”) or even the gelatinous meat from the cow’s face (not for the uninitiated or squeamish, sorry) called “mascara” in the Philippines, but you see, my mom, along with my better half and the kids, are not fond of those exotic cuts of meat, hence, the pork.

"Kare-Kare" is a popular meat and vegetables stew made with ground roasted peanuts or peanut sauce or as most often use due to its wide and easy availability, peanut butter. It is usually prepared with a variety of vegetables, oxtail, beef, offal or tripe, beef tendon and occasionally pork, particularly hock & knuckle (“pata”) and belly (“liempo”). Other variants may include goat meat, sometimes chicken, full veggies and surprisingly mixed seafood, which includes fish, squid, shrimp, crab, clams and mussels, among others.

There are two stories as to the origin of the distinctly delicious “kare-kare”. One goes on saying it originated from the important and most evolved Kapampangan cuisine of Pampanga, Philippines where it is extremely popular, and another one crediting it to the regal dishes of the Moro elite who once settled in Manila prior to the arrival of the Spanish colonizers. Amazingly, it is still a common dish in the islands of Sulu and Tawi-Tawi in the southern Philippines.

The usual vegetables for “kare-kare” include young banana blossom or flower bud (“puso ng saging”), eggplant, string beans, and Chinese cabbage or “bok choi” or “pechay”. It is commonly eaten with sautéed “bagoong alamang” or salted shrimp paste, spiced with chili for additional kick and sprinkled with “calamansi” extract for lemony flavor. Traditionally, any Philippine fiesta, harvest festival and important family affair or gathering, particularly in the Central Luzon Region of Pampanga and Tarlac Provinces, is considered not complete without the rich and creamy “kare-kare” among the foods being served.

My Aunt Lisa was tasked to prepare this dish for the family. For the reason stated in the first paragraph above, we purchased one whole pork “pata” (about 1.3 kilograms) and some (about 700 grams) pork belly as the main meat ingredient. The other ingredients needed are 3 tbsp vegetable oil, divided, about 3 tbsp “atsuete” or annatto seeds, divided, 8 gloves garlic, peeled and mashed, divided, 2 medium onions, peeled and chopped, divided, about 1 cup peanut sauce, 2 banana blossom or flower bud, 4 long eggplants, 3 bunches of “petchay”, 1 bundle of string beans and some birds eye chilies, if you like.

Not shown above but we also need the following: 1 cup of fresh shrimp paste, about 6 cups of pork stock, some freshly ground pepper (optional) and salt to taste.

Cut up the pork “pata” and belly into serving sizes. Thoroughly wash and drain the meat to remove all traces of blood. Season it with salt and ground pepper. In a deep casserole, boil the meat with enough water to cover. Simmer on low fire until the meat is just tender. Set the meat aside and reserve the stock.

While the meat is boiling, you can prepare the sautéed shrimp paste. Drain the fresh shrimp paste by extracting the liquid component. Aunt Lisa usually uses the back of the spoon to press the shrimp paste against a fine strainer to remove the rather salty juice of the “bagoong alamang”.

In a small pan, heat about a tablespoon of oil and steep 1 tbsp of annatto seeds. Extract the color and discard the seeds. Add in minced garlic followed by onion and fry. When aromatic, add in fresh shrimp paste and continue sautéing until cooked through and remaining liquid has evaporated.

In a large pan or wok, heat the remaining oil. Steep the remaining “atsuete” seeds. Remove and discard the seeds after the color has rendered. Fry garlic followed by onion. Add in cooked pork pieces and continue frying until fragrant and meat has absorbed the “atsuete” color.

Pour in about 4-5 cups of stock and bring to a boil. Lower heat to medium and add in vegetables one by one with about two minutes interval. String beans first, followed by eggplant, then banana blossom and finally “pechay”.

In a small bowl, mix the peanut sauce with ½ cup stock. Once the “pechay” has been added, pour in the peanut sauce. Traditionally, ground roasted rice dissolved in a small amount of stock is also added at this point to ensure a thick consistency. But if the peanut sauce can already do the purpose, then it can be omitted.

Stir to blend everything well. Lightly season it with salt and pepper. You may now add the chopped chilies if you are using. You can add some more stock if needed. Continue cooking for a couple of minutes more or until the sauce has attained the preferred consistency. Transfer in several shallow wide bowls and serve to the whole family.

This should be accompanied with the specially prepared “bagoong alamang” to fully complement the taste and flavor and of course……. lots and lots of steamed rice. :-)

There it is, “kare-kare” a la Aunt Liza. So creamy….so tasty….. so yummy. Enjoy! c”,)

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