For years I have wanted to replicate or create a beef tapa that was reminiscent of, but hopefully better than, the beef tapa or really “casajos” that I recall from breakfasts in my grandmother’s home in Cebu. Lola’s casajos was hard, almost like beef jerky, and according to my sister, it was dried high up above the brick ovens in the bakery she owned. I could never find a recipe, though Diday, a reader, suggested one in this post, and I intuitively knew it should be easy to make, but for some reason never got around to it until recently. If you are older than 40 as you read this, you may have an inkling what I am writing about when I say I was seeking a dried tapa, one with a unique flavor near the edges, that I now realize is from the drying process used. It was an intensely beefy flavor, and tapas today simply don’t seem to possess it.
The key to a good casajos had to lie in the drying process. But having never trained in food science, the thought of sun-drying my meat on say the galvanized iron (G.I.) sheets on our roof conjured up several visions of self-inflicted food poisoning. I knew salt and sun should kill off or prevent cootie formulation, but no one else in the neighborhood seemed to be doing it, so I would be flying solo, potential trip to the emergency room be damned.
Some six months ago I even purchased several meters of screen, thinking I would craft my own drying contraption, safe from flies and all. Then I forgot about the purchase, the HOTTEST and sunniest summer of recent memory passed, and on the first two days of steady rains, I managed to start my casajos recipe, hoping the sun would return to dry off my beef au naturel. No such luck.
So here is how I made this experimental batch of casajos or beef tapa. The results were so good there isn’t much to tweak except for pursuing the true sun dried version at some future point. Purchase some thinly sliced beef sirloin. Smash it with a meat pounder to thin it further and flatten it out. Cut into serving sized pieces. Onto 700 grams of meat, I sprinkled about 1+ tablespoon of kosher salt, about 1-2 tablespoons of kikkoman soy sauce, about 1 tablespoon of white sugar, a splash of vinegar (I used apple but feel free to use other types), lots of cracked black pepper and some 8 cloves of garlic, peeled and smashed. I mixed this up and stored it in a ziplock bag in the fridge for two days.
Because the sun was being uncooperative, I decided to dry out the beef in a 200F oven on cookie racks over a cookie sheet. I didn’t want dessicated beef, just not juicy beef, so I dried the batch for some 20 minutes on one side and turned it over for another 15 minutes or so. It was looking good at this point. If you want to dry your casajos further, go ahead. I suspect in the fiercest of summer days with the sun beating down on the beef, 2-3 hours would be sufficient to dry off the casajos.
After drying and cooling the beef, I stuck it back into a ziplock bag and refrigerated it until the next morning. Heat up a cast iron skillet, add a bit of vegetable oil and fry up the pieces of tapa until slightly caramelized on both sides. Serve with some rice or garlic rice, a fried egg, some homemade acharra and you will be in Tapsilog heaven. This turned out wonderfully. It had that slightly “skanky” or intense aroma and flavor that must have come from the drying, and it was salty but flavorful. Perfect with chili vinegar. YUM. I also tried frying some of the casajos that was NOT oven dried (last picture above) and it was good too, but did not possess the intense beefiness of the former oven dried version. This wasn’t quite my lola’s casajos, but it was very good and a keeper of a recipe. If beef tapa is indeed the winner in the recent poll of favorite breakfast meats, I sure hope you try to make your own at home. So easy, such delicious results. As always… great ingredients, careful balancing of flavors, and a desire to recreate a dish before folks messed with it to the point of being unrecognizable… and you end up with something good. :)