When it comes to decadent and hearty stews like kare-kare, good things truly come to those who wait. Making this vibrant dish from scratch takes some time and effort, but the result is a rich stew with melt-in-your-mouth meat, soft but firm veggies, and that signature savory peanut sauce.
What is Kare-kare?
Kare-kare is a classic Filipino oxtail stew that has a thick savory peanut sauce. It is usually made with oxtail, beef tripe or tuwalya, and vegetables like sitaw or green beans, talong or eggplant, and pechay or Chinese cabbage. One of its most defining characteristics is its sauce, which is usually tinted orange from the use of atsuete or annatto seeds, and flavored with beef broth, peanuts, and thickened with ground toasted rice. Kare-kare is usually served with a side of bagoong alamang, which provides the perfect salty foil to the kare-kare’s earthy, savory sauce that has just a hint of sweetness.
History and Origin of Kare-kare
The history of kare-kare varies; one theory is that it originated in Pampanga, from a dish developed by a Moro of Indonesian descent called “kari”. According to Kapampangans of old, kari was a recipe that their ancestors perfected, and the original was actually a mudfish stew flavored with spices such as ginger, turmeric, lemongrass, lime peel, and safflower or kasubha.
Another theory is that as kari grew more famous and more Kapampangans began to travel to Manila, they began setting up stalls that sold kari. Tagalogs loved it and began selling their own versions of kari. However, without access to the spices Kapampangan used, they started to use atusete or annatto seeds to color their kari and peanut butter to make up for the other flavors. Kapampangans began to call the Tagalog’s version of kari as “kari-kari”, which meant to mock their version as a poor imitation of the Kapampangan kari.
Finally, a third theory goes that kare-kare originated from Indians, particularly, the Sepoys: Indian riflemen employed in the British military during its Manila occupation during the Seven Years’ War. When the British left, some of the Sepoys decided to stay behind. In their early days, they would prepare their traditional Indian curry with the spices they had brought, but when they ran out, they substituted their more potent but now-depleted spices with atsuete seeds and peanuts. That, plus the addition of the bagoong alamang, made up for the rich and often strong flavor of authentic Indian curry, and thus, kare-kare was created.
How to Cook Kare-kare
There are several ways to make kare-kare, depending on what tools and appliances you have at your disposal. Before we even start to make the stew (or to be more economical with time, while we tenderize the meat), there are several ingredients that need to be prepared: the atsuete or annatto oil, the ground rice, the peanuts, and the vegetables.
Kare-kare is usually made with oxtail, beef shanks, and beef tripe, or a combination thereof, but it can also be made with pork, chicken, or seafood. There will be slight variations on how to cook each depending on the main protein you’re using.
For beef and pork kare-kare, it’s important to simmer the meat in water, preferably with aromatics like peppercorns, bay leaves, and onion. You can do this in a pot, but using a pressure cooker will be faster. When it is soft but not falling off the bone, remove the meat, discard the aromatics, and strain the broth before setting it aside.
While you wait for your meat to tenderize, you can prepare the other ingredients. First, toast then grind the rice and peanuts. These should be prepared separately, though the steps are slightly similar. Both the rice and peanuts need to be toasted first, but while the peanuts can be ground roughly, the rice needs to be finely ground. Traditionally, the toasted rice was ground using an almires or mortar and pestle, but a food processor, a blender, or even a mini chopper can make the job easier.
You can also blanch your veggies at this point. Kare-kare usually has sitaw, talong, and pechay, but it can also have puso ng saging or banana heart and bok choy. These vegetables have varying blanching times. You want them to be softened but still firm with a bite. In a boiling pot of water, add some salt. You’ll want to put the tougher vegetables first, like the sitaw, and then followed by the eggplant. The puso ng saging and leafy vegetables can be added to the stew later.
You may also need to make your own atsuete or annatto oil. This is a simple process: simply heat neutral-flavored vegetable oil over medium-high heat, then lower the heat to Medium and add in your atsuete seeds. You’ll know you’re done when the oil has been dyed a beautifully deep orange color. Strain and discard the atsuete seeds, and set aside the oil.
To bring the kare-kare together, saute onions and garlic in the atsuete oil in a pot until translucent and fragrant. Then, add the meat and the broth. Add salt and pepper to taste, then add your ground toasted rice, peanuts, and, if preferred, peanut butter. Stir and let simmer until the sauce thickens, and then add the blanched and remaining vegetables. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
How to Serve Kare-kare
Kare-kare is usually served with steamed rice and bagoong alamang on the side. It’s a beloved Filipino ulam or viand that is near impossible to enjoy without a hearty serving of hot rice. Because of the lengthy process to make it, kare-kare is usually made in big batches and, as such, is a favorite in fiestas, parties, and celebrations.
No matter where kare-kare came from, there is one common aspect of its history: it was so good that it was sold at roadside stalls or small restaurants. This is still true today: go to any restaurant in the Philippine that specializes in Filipino cuisine and you’ll find kare-kare or some version of it on the menu.
The process of making kare-kare may seem complicated, but it actually involves very simple steps! Preparing the ingredients may take more time and require some extra effort, but with the right tools (or some clever substitutions), you can easily cut down on both the time and work needed to make a mouthwatering pot of kare-kare.
Kare-kare Recipe Variations
1 Beef Kare-kare Recipe
While our classic Filipino kare-kare recipe features beef or pork shanks, this beef kare-kare recipe uses beef cubes, which soften faster and will cut down the cooking time.
Try this beef kare-kare recipe.
2 Lechon Kawali Kare-kare Recipe
Yes, you can make kare-kare with pork… but why settle for boiled pork when you can fuse the savory-sweet and nutty kare-kare with crunchy and juicy lechon kawali?
Yummy Editor Tip: A little hack to get this dish ready in record time: use leftover lechon kawali or simply buy your favorite lechon kawali, and all you’ll have to make is the kare-kare sauce.
Try this lechon kawali kare-kare recipe.
3 Chicken Kare-kare Recipe
Unlike beef and pork kare-kare, chicken kare-kare cooks the fastest because chicken doesn’t need to be simmered for hours to get tender. Plus, it’s relatively cheaper than pork or meat cuts, too, so it’s also more budget-friendly!
4 Seafood Kare-kare Recipe
Kare-kare is so versatile that it can feature protein from land and sea, and seafood kare-kare is proof! And when we say seafood, we MEAN seafood: our seafood kare-kare features crabs, prawns, mussels, and fish!
Try this seafood kare-kare recipe.
5 Kare-kare Sauce Recipe
Let’s face it. One of the best things about kare-kare is the sauce, and we know everybody can’t get enough of it.
More Kare-kare Recipes Featuring Other Ingredients:
Other Kare-kare Recipe Variations
1 Kare-kare Pasta Recipe
Kare-kare may be best paired with rice, but you can also transform it into this delicious kare-kare pasta recipe!
2 Kare-kare Burrito Recipe
This kare-kare burrito recipe is a great way to add a unique twist to your leftover kare-kare. Plus, you can have it on the go!
3 Pork Kaldereta with Liver Spread and Peanut Butter Recipe
Don’t knock it ’til you’ve tried it: this pork kaldereta with liver spread and peanut butter recipe is the perfect love child of kaldereta and kare-kare.
Tips For Making the Best Kare-kare
1 Fatty meat cuts make kare-kare more flavorful.
Fat is a great carrier of flavor, and it’s one of the things that will help bring your kare-kare to the next level. Whether you’re using beef, pork, or chicken, choose a meat cut that has an ample fat-to-lean meat ratio: it shouldn’t be too fatty, but there should be some nice marbling. For chicken, don’t skimp on the dark meat!
2 Toast the rice and peanuts before you grind them.
These two ingredients are what give the kare-kare its signature taste and texture, so it’s super worth it to make the extra effort to draw out their best flavors. Toasting not only extracts the natural oil from the peanuts and gives the rice a new depth of flavor; it also makes grinding these ingredients way, way easier.
Bonus tip: if you want to go more traditional and give your kare-kare a silkier, thicker texture, use malagkit or glutinous rice!
3 Prepare the vegetables separately, and add them only when serving.
Not only do you end up with a more aesthetically pleasing plate, but blanching the vegetables separately allows you to cook them in just the right amount of time to get them softened but still firm. This can be a little difficult to manage when they’re barely visible in the thick orange sauce, and you run the risk of overcooking the vegetables. Plus, blanching retains the vegetable’s natural color and nutrients, too!
Kare-kare Storage Tips
1 Refrigerate kare-kare immediately.
This is especially important if you’ve made it with toasted rice, which spoils fast. Once the kare-kare has cooled to room temperature, place it in a clean, covered container and pop it straight into the refrigerator. Best to consume as soon as possible, or within two days.
2 Separate the veggies.
Another reason why it pays to blanch the vegetables separately is that it makes it easier for you to store kare-kare. The vegetables may spoil faster than the rest of the dish, so storing them separately will help prolong the storage life of your kare-kare.
3 For long storage, freeze kare-kare.
Kare-kare actually freezes really well! Just make sure to remove or separate any vegetables and store in a clean and sealed container. It can last in the freezer indefinitely, but we don’t recommend keeping it for longer than 2 weeks.
Trivia about Kare-kare
• Olympic gold medalist Hidilyn Diaz loves kare-kare. In fact, it’s one of the dishes she was most homesick for after coming back from her 13-month training in Malaysia.
• You can get frozen kare-kare in the supermarket! This may be the fastest way to cook kare-kare, because it only takes 8-10 minutes in the microwave.