06 February 2008

Kare Kare

Get a slow cooker.

If I've learned one thing over the short life of this blog that I can impart, it's that. Get a slow cooker. It's like cooking but... not. For some reason, I used to associate slow cookers with gimmick culinary contraptions like salad shooters, knuckle guards, or the Ronco Food Dehydrator (it makes turkey jerkey!). In fact, it probably does less than all those Magic Bullet-type devices. The only thing it does is slowly but surely heat whatever you put inside it.

But, oh, the magic it did for my latest batch of kare kare.My recent foray into Filipino cooking was inspired by my recent Christmas trip home to the Bay Area. It was the first time I'd ever spent Christmas day without my parents, who flew south for the winter. So, when I wasn't officially upgrading Camille from girlfriend to fiance or playing Guitar Hero, I was watching Camille's mother cook. Because she's the working mother of four kids, she has an amazing shorthand for pinoy dishes that are notoriously laborious. And using only two burners and a turbo cooker, to boot.

I'd previously tried kare kare, the peanut-based oxtail stew, once before using a recipe from Memories of Philippine Kitchens, which has more traditional leanings in terms of flavor and preparation. The recipe calls for an initial stewing to soften the meat and make a broth, cooling overnight to separate the fat for use the next day while cooking an assortment of veggies. It also uses equal portions of peanuts and peanut butter while more contemporary recipes pour on the peanut butter for a richer flavor and texture.

Camille's mom? She cuts onions and minces garlic, tossing them into a hot pot as she goes, then sears off the oxtail, boils it down, dumps a combination of sauce and flavor packets, then the peanut butter, then bok choy and longbeans. Hour and one-half, two hours tops. She has kids, she says.

And it works. It's really good. Sweet and savory, beefy, peanut buttery goodness. The gooey thickness of the peanut butter sauce with balance from the mildly sweet, leafy bok choy and the bite of the green beans. Except the oxtail meat is just a tad too firm. I wanted to do a hybrid of the two methods, but unfortunately there's really no short cut for breaking down beef into a tender, juicy wonder.

Enter the slow cooker.

Ingredients
2 lbs. oxtail, cut into 2-inch pieces
5-6 cloves of garlic, peeled and mashed
2 medium onions, chopped
1 1/2 - 2 cups peanut butter
2 handfuls (about 1 lbs.) longbeans, trimmed and halved
4-5 heads baby bok choy, rinsed
3 tbs. oil
2 eggplants, halved and chopped into 3/4" pieces (optional)
steamed rice

Equipment
slow cooker
large, heavy pot

(I bought a Le Creuset dutch oven a few years back that's big and heavy and beautiful. There are probably cheaper dutch ovens that are reasonably comparable performance-wise, but they ain't as good and they're definitely not as beautiful, and no one brags about their reasonably comparable and ugly dutch oven. My point: go cheap everywhere else, but indulge yourself with at least one Le Creuset.)

My cousin recommended slow cooking overnight, which I did by simply placing the oxtail in, filling the crock pot with water, covering, and setting to low. No need for refrigeration or fat-skimming or any of that. In the morning, the meat was still a touch on the firm side. So, I just left the thing on and went to work.

When I returned home, the oxtail had been slow cooking for about 18 hours, resulting in suitably beefy broth and meat that was fall-off-the-bone tender. Not a figure of speech, it was falling clean off the bone. The fat and cartilage melted away and the meat fiber sloughed off when I tried fishing it out of the crock pot, leaving white, clean bones that looked like a cross between a biplane and an X-Wing fighter. Cool.Set aside the oxtail, heat the oil, and saute the onions and garlic about five minutes. Add the peanut butter and the broth. I used about eight cups of broth, but if it's not enough you can add more later. Let simmer until the peanut butter has incorporated well, then add the oxtail and eggplant. Continue to simmer for about 10 minutes.

Add the longbeans and bok choy and simmer another 10 minutes for the flavors to combine. Taste and adjust the texture to your liking by adding either more broth or more peanut butter.

Portion rice into bowls, then ladle the kare kare into it. Now, all you need is a spoon. Though Camille and I have been on a brown rice kick lately, I found that the dryer, nuttier brown rice wasn't able to soak up the stew as well as white rice.

10 comments:

JennDZ - The Leftover Queen said...

I really need to start using my slow cooker! Thanks for the inspiration!

Welcome to The Foodie Blogroll!

Hazel said...

do you only use the slow cooker to tenderize the oxtail?

Tanya Regala said...

Hi!

Your kare kare looks really delicious!

I'm collecting a list of the best kare kare recipes in my blog, and I included your kare kare recipe (just a link though, hope you don't mind). You can see it at
http://kumain.com/kare-kare-2/

Keep in touch!

pinkyb said...

Your description has left me sitting here with mouth watering! Planning on tackling kare-kare next week and while I planned on calling my Mom for her recipe, I think I might try yours first. I LOVE my crock pot and that I can use it for Filipino cooking. Thanks for the tip on slow cooking the oxtail for ~18 hrs.

pinkyb said...

Your description has left me sitting here with mouth watering! Planning on tackling kare-kare next week and while I planned on calling my Mom for her recipe, I think I might try yours first. I LOVE my crock pot and that I can use it for Filipino cooking. Thanks for the tip on slow cooking the oxtail for ~18 hrs.

Anonymous said...

Hi! I just want to let you know that I tried your method, and it was a hit! Thanks for the recipe and tips! :)

Francisco Magdaraog said...

Wow, I'm glad my recipe is coming to good use. Thanks for commenting, all!

kitchen apron said...

the only use of a slow cooker is to soften the meat or making the taste and smell of the ingredients simmer to the meat

criticpapa said...

whoa!!!, you had a passion in blogging, thumbs up for your work of love.. Hehe very inspiring ideas,


anyway I'm william
mind if I put a link back to you?


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peny113 said...
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