Instant Pot Kare-Kare (Filipino oxtail and peanut stew)
I can’t think of a single Filipino who doesn’t like kare-kare. This traditional peanut-based stew is a national favorite and now with the Instant Pot, this dish can be on the table in half the time.
It may confuse (or annoy) some to have read my previous post describing my family’s plant-based journey only to be followed by a oxtail stew recipe. I mentioned that we are part-time vegetarians, making sure our meals don’t contain meat for at least half the week, but we still eat chicken and fish as part of our regular diet. Beef and pork are occasional treats and will continue to pop up on the blog, especially since I’ve been collecting my mother’s brain with every phone conversation in an attempt to preserve on this blog some of my favorite Filipino recipes from my childhood. Kare-kare is one of these recipes.
Kare-kare (kuh-reh-kuh-reh) is a stew made with crushed peanuts and ground roasted rice, traditionally prepared with oxtail and/or tripe. It’s a favorite of most, if not all, Filipinos and, in addition to how tasty it is, its other notable feature is that with the long cooking time required to tenderize meat (and tripe), it’s a labor of love. Because of this, kare-kare is a weekend dish or one that is served at gatherings.
I couldn’t find anything definitive about the origins of kare-kare, as it is uniquely Filipino in roots and its similarity to maafe, a West African peanut-based stew, is hard to ignore.
Kare-Kare: A Brief History
Philippines and West Africa have a common denominator: Spanish colonial rule. Early explorations took the Spanish to South America, where peanuts (specifically, Brazil and Peru) are believed to have originated. The first Spaniards to set foot in West Africa date back to the 14th and 15th centuries, although colonization did not take place until the late 1700s and into the 1900s. In the Philippines 300 years of colonial rule began in the late 16th century. It is difficult to say which came first, kare-kare or maafe and whether kare-kare was adapted by West Africans to become maafe or vice versa, but the Spanish introduced peanuts in both places and the two dishes must be related.
As is true for most Filipino dishes with Spanish roots, Filipinos have made kare-kare their own. Instead of okra, cabbage and traditional tomatoes with maafe, beans, banana flowers and eggplant are the vegetables used to round out kare-kare. The annatto seeds of the achiote plant are used to add a rich color to the dish and since peanuts lend richness but not much umami, salted shrimp paste is a necessary component.
As I mentioned earlier, kare-kare is a labor of love. Bulltail and corns can take at least two hours to be tender enough to serve and the Instant Pot makes possible in about an hour what takes two to three hours to prepare on the stove.
I mentioned in a previous post that one of the challenges I wanted to conquer this year was my fear of using a pressure cooker. I’m happy to say that after three cooking projects with my Instant Pot, I’m still here to tell my kare-kare story. But I had doubts about the quality of the dishes cooked in it. Beans and simple vegetable soups are a no-brainer, but can you get that slow-cooked flavor from a pressure cooker?
The jury is still out on some dishes I have in mind, but for kare-kare, where most of the cooking time is for tenderizing the meat (and only a small fraction of the time is to incorporate the rest of the ingredients afterwards) the Instant Pot was made for kare-kare
Skim the Fat: I broke the cooking process for two days, although this is optional. Bulltail is a fatty cut of meat and I wanted to skim most of this fat before finishing the dish. I pressure-cooked the oxtail and refrigerated it overnight, which allowed me to skim a cup of fat the next day. I left two or three tablespoons in the broth to help preserve the flavor and compensate for the creaminess of the peanuts that would be added later. This step is completely optional, but it freed me from the guilt of enjoying this dish two days in a row.
Vegetables: For vegetables I used popular substitutions in the absence of banana flowers and beans (Chinese long beans). Bok choy and regular green beans work just as well here. Eggplants are a must.
Crushed peanuts: Peanut butter is much more convenient to use instead of crushing peanuts with a mortar. I prefer to use natural peanut butter instead of Jif and Skippy to avoid additives, but it wouldn’t be a deal breaker if these are your peanut butter favorites.
Ground Toasted Rice
: While I used ground roasted raw rice for my recipe, this step is optional. My mother doesn’t even bother with this step and consider her the authority on Filipino food. The rice serves as a thickener for the stew, but peanut butter also thickens the stew. Feel free to skip this step.
This dish has been a long time coming. With my family of two, it hasn’t always been practical to share some of my favorite Filipino dishes, as they are usually cooked in family-sized portions. But as I prepare to greet this blog’s ninth anniversary in a few days, I’m more committed than ever to sharing (and hope to educate) my readers of traditional Filipino cuisine. With all the regional specialties and being familiar only with my childhood food, I’m also learning as I go. This kare-kare is just one step forward on this journey.