Once upon a time, a little girl and her father sat down for dinner at a humble Chinese-Filipino restaurant. It was a blessing to find a spot that served their homeland's cuisine in this small California town.
"What do you want for dinner?" the dad asked the little girl.
The little girl was overwhelmed by the large menu, she couldn't make a decision! The dad pointed to an item on the menu: "Kare Kare: oxtail stew in peanut butter sauce".
'GROSS', the girl thought in her head. But she was eager to please her dad, so she reluctantly ordered the dish with a smile of confidence hiding her dismay.
"You're going to love it, it's so good. Make sure you put a dab of shrimp paste on it when you take a bite," the dad advised.
When the stew arrived, her dad had a huge smile on his face. He couldn't see the dread on her face; while he saw a delectable feast, she saw a foul brown pool that should've stayed sandwiched between white bread and grape jelly.
The little girl continued her act, and transferred some oxtail, Chinese green beans, and eggplant on her plate. With her fork and spoon, she tore little pieces from each ingredient and scooped them onto her spoon, along with a little bit of rice.
She used her fork to garnish her arrangement, per her dad's suggestion. She cautiously took a bite...
...and instantly fell in LOVE. With her father's face beaming, she devoured every bit of kare kare that her little tummy could handle.
That first bowl of kare kare was a revelation. From that moment on, the little girl vowed to try the most unfamiliar dish in every restaurant she would visit.
These stories sound so dramatic, but I hope you got my point. I immediately judged a dish before tasting it, solely on the presence of peanut butter.
Thankfully, my dad was there to guide me towards what was possibly the most delicious dish on the menu. If he didn't suggest kare kare that night, would I still be sharing incredible food with you, like I do now?
Moral of the story is, venture out of your comfort zone. You won't know what you like unless you try it first!
Another thing I found daunting was making kare kare at home. When I finally found the courage to cook it, I found that it was ridiculously simple.
Watch the video below, grab your ingredients, and get cooking! I guarantee that kare kare will astound family and friends at your next dinner.
1-2 lbs Oxtail
1-2 lbs Veggies (various, your choice)
1 tbsp Anatto seeds (or in Tagalog, “achuete”)
½ tbsp oil
4 cloves garlic, mashed
1 medium onion, chopped
¼ cup rice flour, toasted
1 cup peanut butter, creamy or chunky
Get the oxtail tender: Fill a pot with just enough water to submerge the oxtail. Boil at medium heat for 2.5 - 3 hours if using a normal pot (if you're using a pressure cooker, ~40 minutes).
Blanch vegetables for 1 minute. Use various vegetables--like in my sinigang video, you can experiment putting other types of vegetables in the Kare Kare if you like. In this video, I used what my family usually uses: green beans, eggplant, & bok choy.
Soak the annatto seeds in hot water, for 15 minutes (gives the stew more color!).
After the oxtail has tenderized, transfer the meat AND the water it was boiling in (which is now oxtail broth) to a separate container. We will use the emptied-out pot to start on the base.
The base: pour the oil into the pot, then add the garlic and let it brown. Then, add the chopped onions and cook them through. Next, add the oxtail broth, and then strain and stir in the toasted rice flour. Pour in the peanut butter and mix it well. Then, squeeze the annatto seeds to get as much color out of it as you can (strain the seeds, don’t cook them). If you like, add more seeds and water to increase the color to your preference. Pour the annatto-ed water into the pot, and stir well.
Final step: mix everything back into the base you just created! Add more water into the stew to liquefy the stew, if you want.
Simmer for a few more minutes to get everything integrated. Mix, mix, MIX to get every ingredient coated in the sauce!
Serve with shrimp paste (bagoong) and rice. While you’re eating, take a teeny bit of bagoong with each spoonful of kare kare and rice. Try it now! What are you waiting for? :D