I read somewhere (perhaps in the Inquirer a few months back) that some folks attribute kare-kare to an Indian curry either by early migrants from India or elsewhere in Southeast Asia where Indians had moved. It is believed that the curry was adapted to locally available ingredients. There is also a view that this dish is somewhat similar to the Indonesian gado-gado and influence may have come from there as well. Whatever its provenance, we now know itâ€™s a pinoy favorite. So I wanted to attempt to cook it. I referred to several recipes before I decided to attempt to make kare-kare. I cut and paste ingredients, methods, proportions from several of the recipes and added a dose of my views on what it should taste like to result in this recipe that can feed up to 12 hungry folks. First, make a nice flavorful broth from scratch. Put 2.5 kilos of good oxtails and about Â¾ kilo beef shank on the bone in a wide bottomed pot and cover with cold water (about 2-2.5 liters). Add one chopped onion, one small rib of celery and about 15 peppercorns. Bring to a boil and let this simmer for about 2-2.5 hours or until the oxtails are quite tender. Remove the oxtails, strain out the other ingredients and reduce this broth further to say 8-9 cups of fragrant and tasty (albeit no salt) liquid. Set this aside.
Soak your achuete seeds in about 1-1.5 cups of room temperature water for 30 minutes and mash them a bit with a spoon. Strain this and discard achuete seeds, set the colored water aside. In a good food processor, blitz about a cup of white rice (uncooked) until it looks like a coarse flour. Toast this powdered rice in a dry pan over medium heat until it turns a light brown but do not burn it. Set this aside as well. Assemble your cleaned vegetables and blanch the banana blossom if you want. Cut the beans, bok choy and eggplants into nice serving sized pieces. Heat up a large pan and sautÃ© 2 chopped white onions until soft. Add about half a tablespoon on chopped garlic and stir. Add the achuete colored water and the cooked meats and stir.
Add about 6-8 cups of the beef broth you made earlier and have it reach a boil. Add about 2/3 of your toasted rice powder, about 6-8 tablespoons of smooth peanut butter, and about Â½ cup of ground freshly roasted peanuts. Add more rice powder or peanuts to taste and to your desired level of viscosity of the sauce. I found I had to add a bit more rice flour because the pot I was using was just hugeâ€¦ After about 10 minutes boiling and mixing together, add all the vegetables except the bok choy and simmer for another 5-7 minutes. Season generously with salt and pepper. Add the bok choy last and the juice of about 8 kalamansi and about 2 minutes later you are ready to serve it with some nice steamed rice. A condiment of cooked bagoong alamang (shrimp paste) is an absolute necessity for this dish. Without it you might as well eat something else. How did it turn out? Pretty good, if I may say so myself. It had terrific soft and flavorful meat, a less than mud-like consistency for the liquid, and a pleasant peanut taste. However, I must say this is not one of my favoritesâ€¦I find it isnâ€™t too distinctive at all. Give me a nice Indian or Thai curry any day instead. Kare-kare is always at risk of being overly sweet, lacking in flavor (other than peanut butter out of a bottle) or possessing a bizarre mouth feel. It can come across as tasting paste-y and I think it is the bagoong that makes the dish more than anything else. As always, I gravitated more to the vegetables and had just one large oxtail. Donâ€™t misunderstand my negative streak, it was good. But I donâ€™t think this dish will ever be great, in my opinionâ€¦