Oxtail Peanut Stew with Peanut Butter
Kare kare is oxtail stew cooked with roasted & grounded peanuts, unsweetened Peanut Butter and vegetables served with white rice. A very comforting and delicious dish that Filipinos LOVE!
What is Kare kare? [ka-ri-kari]
Kare Kare has a colourful history, pretty much the same as the Philippines history. There are a few theories where the beginnings of this dish comes from but all sound interesting.
This is considered as truly Filipino according to Amy Besa and Romy Dorotan on their “Memories of Filipino Kitchens” cook book which won a Jane Grigson award in the US.
The first theory is that an Indonesian Prince Balagtas came to the Philippines and landed on Pampanga shores. Bringing with him some curry, turmeric, coriander, cumin and chili peppers. Maybe the first Kare had curry ingredients but when the ingredients ran out they had to find alternative ingredients. Also at that time Spain controlled trading so maybe they couldn’t get more ingredients. Spain banned so many Filipino foods or ingredients due to Filipino poisoning them. LOL! During that time peanuts are already known so they added that ingredient, annatto or achiote seeds to colour the dish yellow-ish or orange to mimic turmeric. BUT chillies were taken out to suit the Spanish palate as they didn’t like spicy food. Kari = an Indo-Malay word for curry (info from Pinasarap with Kara David)
The second theory is that during the British occupation, very brief 2 years in Metro Manila (1762) , they brought Sepoy Indian Soldiers. The soldiers brought with them curry, masala and ground spices. When the war ended (silly 2 years and the British gave up on us after making the Spanish sweat) Some soldiers stayed and eventually merged into the Philippine society and married local girls. They settled in and around Pasig, TayTay and Cainta in Luzon. They called it Kaari or Kaikaari. (info from Pinas Sarap with Kara)
The third theory from the pre-colonial era also claims that the elite classes of the Moro or Bangsamoro people who came to settle here actually brought the nutty dish with them. Given that kare-kare is also a traditional dish in Sulu and Tawi-Tawi (which are the parts of the country where the early Moro settlers first landed), there could very well be some truth to this theory. (info from pepper.ph)
Whichever theory is correct, I for one I’m very happy that we made Kare kare our own and it is loved by so many. You can typically see this dish in celebrations and special occasions.
This version is something I put together to get a general recipe for anyone to replicate in their homes.
Let’s talk ingredients
Traditionally we used roasted and grounded peanuts but today many Filipino use unsweetened peanut butter because it’s easier to use. Alternatively you can do this if you are pressed for time, however roasting your own peanuts and blitzing it on your blender makes such a big difference.
Ground rice and water is used to thicken the stew a little, you don’t make it too thick, you want it to hug the meat and vegetables. Alternatively you can use cornflour and water to thicken your kare kare if rice flour isn’t available to you.
Let’s think about the shrimp paste, I added that as optional but the purist would argue that it’s a vital condiment for Kare kare. For me I like my kare kare with sauteed shrimp paste as it gives depth in flavour but some people might not enjoy that very much. For non Filipinos this is definitely an acquired taste (like how I feel about marmite). You can buy ready sauteed shrimp paste in Chinatown, Wing Yip or the Filipino grocery shops in Earls Court. While you are there grab a packet of Annatto seeds too.
It’s not absolutely crucial that you add annatto into the kare kare as it’s used as a natural colouring ingredient but for me I like some colour with my Kare kare, it just looks the part but taste-wise it doesn’t make much difference.
For veggies, you can use aubergine instead of egg plant. Aubergine is in the same family as egg plant and it’s probably more available in your local grocery shops.
To thicken & colour the stew add 100ml water, annatto powder and 2 tablespoons corn flour
In a pot, heat some oil and saute onions for 1 minute, then add oxtail and sear until it turns whitish brown on the outside. Add garlic and cook for 1 minute.
Add water and bring to a boil on high heat with the lid on. Once boiled, turn the heat to low, add salt, pepper, some toasted peanuts (leave some for toppings) and peanut butter. Mix them all together. Put the lid back on and leave it to simmer for 1.5 hours to 2 hours.
While you wait for the oxtail to soften, cook and prepare the vegetables. Steam the green beans, grill or steam pak choi and fry the aubergine. Leave them on the side for later.
After 1.5 hours to 2 hours your oxtail should be soft and almost falling off the bone. Taste the stew, add more salt if required. Pour the thickening and annatto mixture into the stew while mixing it at the same time to avoid lumps into the stew.
Now your Kare kare is ready! You can serve this with the vegetables and toasted peanuts on top. It’s usually eaten with some salted shrimp paste on the side to compliment the dish.