I daresay, this is one of the most requested Filipino dishes by balikbayans and a favorite during family gatherings.
I am writing the recipe today for my brother in-law, as a much belated thank you for treating us to a mean, low and slow cooked pork adobo when we last visited.
Cooking Kare-kare isn't rocket science, but our version is a little bit more tedious because we prefer our vegetables to be flavorful on their own and retain most of their crispness (mushed veggies are not good eats). I've also tried to move away from pre-packaged mixes to avoid MSG. You are of course welcome to substitute the recipe here and use the mix :)
1 kilo Ox Tail (my family prefers a combination of beef face, tendon and ox tail)
2 inch knob of ginger, peeled and sliced
1 Tbsp whole black peppercorns
2 medium onions, sliced
2 heads garlic, minced
4 medium sized bay leaves
2 Pechay or Chinese bokchoy bundles (cut an inch of the core to separate leaves)
1 small cabbage, cut into 8 wedges. (remove most of the thick root in the middle but not all)
10 strands long beans, cut into 2 inches (remove ends)
2 medium Chinese eggplants, cut on the bias (3/4 inch thick ovals)
2 cups raw peeled peanuts OR 1 cup peanut butter
1 Tbsp canola or peanut oil (for the peanut paste if using raw)
1/4 cup annatto or achioete seeds (For color. This is optional but it doesn't look as appetizing without this)
4 tbsp canola oil (for the Annatto seeds)
2 Tbsp rice flour (No need to buy, just dry toast the rice grains, and grind in the blender)
Salt, Ground Pepper and Fish sauce to taste
Preparing the beef -
Wash the ox tail and other beef parts. If using beef face and tendon, no need to cut into pieces before boiling (it's nearly impossible anyway). Ox tails are usually sold in 1 1/2 inch disks already.
In a deep pot, add beef parts and cold water to cover. Bring up to a boil and let it go for 20 minutes.
Beef face and oxtails are quite fatty, so at this point discard the initial broth (yes! all of it, don't worry you'll still get loads of flavor later). Replace the water and add the ginger, whole black peppercorns, 1 sliced onion, bay leaf, 1 tbsp of salt and 1/4 of your garlic. The ginger will counter the 'lansa' or any unflattering smell of the beef so don't skip it.
Let this boil on medium low heat (around 3 hours), until fork tender but still retains it's shape. If using different parts you'll need to remove the tendon and face earlier than the ox tail. The beef will be cooked again later so don't let it soften too much. Once cool, take the large pieces of tendon and beef face, then break it down to 2 x 2 inch chunks (thereabouts). Strain and save the broth for later (you'll need around 2 qts). Try to remove as much oil from the broth as you can. You don't need the boiled onion, peppercorns or ginger anymore, just discard those.
Preparing the Veggies -
Clean, slice and let dry all vegetables. In a separate pan, saute each set of vegetables (pechay, cabbage and long beans) on high heat with a little oil, minced garlic and a pinch of salt. Cook for a minute or two only, make sure they don't wilt too much.
For the eggplant, use medium low heat and fry on both sides. Eggplants usually absorbs oil quickly, so don't be tempted to drown it. Just put a little oil then lay your eggplants and cover the saute pan. This'll help cook the eggplants faster. Flip it once the eggplant is tender to brown the other side. No need to add more oil.
Some folks skip this step and cook their eggplants and the other vegetables directly in the broth. That is fine too, however I've never been a fan of boiled eggplant (yuck), but I love 'em fried.
p.s. Don't be afraid to brown the garlic. IMHO, the western belief that brown garlic is no good doesn't apply to Filipino cooking. The nutty, slightly singed flavor cuts through our rich stews very well. There is a fine line between brown and burnt though - you'll just have to learn this by practice.
Preparing the peanut paste -
For the peanuts, we dry toast them in a saute pan on the stove top, then grind them in a regular blender. Sometimes the ground nuts turn into powder and not paste. If that happens, add 1 tbsp of peanut oil if you have it, or canola if you don't. Olive oil and other strong flavored oils will skew the peanut paste, so go for something neutral. Of course, peanut butter is an option - but this is sometimes too sweet (especially the American ones). If in the US, you can buy ground peanut at wholefoods where they let you grind your own.
Preparing the Annatto / Achiote oil -
This is completely optional, but somehow without this natural coloring, the food isn't as appetizing. I highly recommend this additional 5 minute step. Just drop your annatto seeds and oil in a small sauce pan and simmer over low heat for 5 minutes. After this, let it steep in the oil until needed. Strain and remove the annatto seeds before use. You can reuse the annatto if the color isn't strong enough for you. Usually the color of the final product is somewhere between Burnt Orange and Burnt Sienna.
Putting it all together -
Using your annatto oil, saute the minced garlic and sliced onions in a pot (you can use the same pot where you boiled the beef). Add the peanut paste. Saute for a few minutes, then slowly add the broth. Adding the broth a cup or two at a time will help you avoid peanut paste clumps. It's hard to mix those in if you just dump the entire broth in. At this point, add pepper, salt and/or fish sauce to taste. Don't salt it too much as the dish will be served with bagoong (fermented shrimp).
Add the cooked meat and let simmer for 10 minutes. At times the peanut paste can thicken the broth on its own. If it's not enough, dissolve 2 Tbsp of rice flour in 3 Tbsp of water. Slowly add until you get your preferred texture. Ideally the sauce is still light but will coat the back of the spoon. Test it by drawing your finger across the back of the spoon and if the line stays you're good to go (be careful, it's hot!).
If you're ready to serve add the vegetables and gently toss together. I typically don't include the water that the veggies sweat out, so as not to dilute the sauce. Your choice.
Serve with lots of fragrant rice and a side of bagoong.
p.s. For a healthier (albeit, non-traditional) alternative, you can substitute chicken thighs for beef or turn this into a vegetarian dish. Just use veggie broth or water instead of beef stock (and obviously, don't include the beef!).