How to make Traditional Kare-Kare and Bagoong with Inantala

I met Arvin two weeks ago as he voluntarily offered me to try out his homemade Kare-kare... one that he usually likes to make in the most traditional ways possible; and I found it to be a perfect Filipino family dish that everyone just love eating. This dish requires a great amount of patience to make, but as he said, the rewards are great as far as taste and textures are concerned. I find that his take on the bagoong alamang resembles to the smell of mexican cuisine, but it definitely gets that unique kick in itself even without the Kare-kare. So to you Arvin, a big thanks for sharing a part of your tradition here at Nines vs. Food!!


Catch up on more of Arvin's food adventures and kitchen stories on his blog A Piso For Your Thoughts.


----- Nines
Kare Kare. That bright orange, luscious, smooth and rich peanut sauce, enveloping-melt-in-your-mouth beef and ox tripe, kicked up a notch by a dollop of bagoong alamang (fermented shrimp paste).
When I first started cooking, in the days of Adobo swimming in a sea of bland soup like failure, there were a few dishes that represented the peaks of culinary skill that I wanted to get to. First was Sinigang (sour soup with many protein variations), a dish that is now my most trusted baseline dishes. Second was Kare Kare, a dish I treat with utmost reverence. The last two dishes, those that I still have yet to try: Paella, and my lola’s (grandma’s) Laing (taro leaves stewed in coconut milk). Those dishes, in my opinion, require very different skill levels and food knowledge. Also, simply because I could never resist good Sinigang, Kare Kare, Paella and Laing, I never eat them in places that I know do not have the reverence and respect that I have for them.

When I first started learning how to cook Kare Kare from aunts and uncles, lolas and lolos (grandparents), neighborhood cooks, I built the system that I know use every time I watch anyone cooking. I don’t really look at exact measurements, I notice principles, what people add and what it does to a dish, how the variations in ingredients and process change the subtleties of the food. I noticed that some people used peanut butter, while some had roasted peanuts ground up in the wet market grinder, while some bought pre-ground mixtures found in many palengkes (wet markets) in the metro. Some also blanched the veggies and/or separated the meat from the sauce for better presentation. The varieties in preparation and ingredients are many, with each version offering up a different nuance in flavor or texture, or both. Like what I do for everything I cook now, I took all of the things I learned from the many Kare Kare’s and went through my trial and error process to get to where I wanted to get to: a Kare Kare recipe that respected the traditional principles that made the dish what it is, and extra attention to details to make it sing.

When an old buddy of mine from San Beda asked me to write a guest post for this blog, I said, why not? I was planning to push my Kare Kare even further and had all the ingredients I needed. So here it is, my Kare Kare with no shortcuts.

I believe that Kare Kare is composed of four important things: firstly, a killer bagoong alamang, ground roasted peanuts (NOT the sweet kind that's peanut butter), well cooked veggies, and almost unctuous beef flavor. So let’s discuss all of those first.

The Bagoong Alamang

Now, I don’t do alamang like most people do. I really don’t eat bagoong, but it’s one of the first things I really poured effort into learning, just because I cannot get the spicy, sweet and deliciously salty bagoong I always had with water soaked slices of green mango sold in the streets by grimy looking individuals. Like the mythical fishball sweet dipping sauce I grew up with in Mendiola and the two peso lumpia I enjoyed in Sta. Cruz, I long decided that if I ever do bagoong, it’d be reminiscent of the ones green mango vendors served, unforgettable siren songs that were too irresistible to even consider water borne contaminants, city pollution, and the very real danger of less than clean food handling. Let me stop rambling now and start you off with…

First, start with chicharon, cabron.

There are two ways of going about the chicharon (pork rind crackling) part of the bagoong, you can do it the old school and simple way: boil fat and skin in a bit of water and let the fat render over low heat ‘til it gets crispy and golden brown (really, this process works better if you want to store the bagoong and not use up all of it in one go), or if you will be serving all of it up in one go and want to really push the bogoong to its absolute best, as I said, my friend asked me right smack in the middle of me wanting to cook up my ultimate Kare Kare, try my version of my ninong’s (godfather) Inantala. Inantala, literally, “to halt”, is a Tagalog pork rind preparation that I only get to enjoy when I visit my hometown San Leonardo, Nueva Ecija. What it basically is is pork rind prepared just up to the point where all you need to do is deep fry it in hot oil and watch the dried out strips of fat and skin to puff up like pork flavored popcorn. My ninong runs a piggery and butcher shop and he does inantala exquisitely. It was my first time to try it out, and I think that I have the principles of the dish down pat, I just need to refine my process. But here’s what I did.


Inantala (pork rinds)

I bought fat and skin trimmings from a nearby supermarket, but if you can’t find some, just have your butcher separate the fat and rind from pigue (pork butt/shoulder) or kasim (foreshank) and cut them into medium sized cubes. Add them to a deep sauce pan and do not add water, add oil halfway up the trimmings. Do this with everything at room temp and turn your stove to the lowest setting you can get it to. I had to turn the knob counter clockwise to get the flame as small as I had to get it. Now, this will take time and attention. Wait for the fat to simmer, there will be a lot of oily froth, small bubbles that tell you that the drying out process is working. You don’t want to crisp up the fat too fast, you want to dry it out as much as you can without actually air drying out in the sun (or in the fridge, I process I’ll try the next time I try my hand at inantala).

Nines vs. Food - Kare Kare - Inantala.jpg
Pork Rinds getting an ultimate hot oil bath
Be patient with this, and I promise, the rewards are going to be awesome. Mix it up regularly, as leaving it to its own devices will mean that the bottom layer’s temp will rise and crisp up the rinds before you dry out the top layers. I stopped at this:

Nines vs. Food - Kare Kare - Inantala2.jpg
Drained Pork Rind pieces
After getting to this stage, you can drain it all and, surprise, surprise; keep it in a ziplock and freeze it. Think of it as instant chicharon. I kid you not, first time I had it, I had to pick up pieces of my brain from the wall man. But I won’t stop here next time. I intend to take it even further. Why? Because I only got it to pop this way.

Nines vs. Food - Kare Kare - Inantala3.jpg
After freezing and another fry, here's how it looked like


Now, after deciding on what kind of pork crackling you want to do, you start on the bagoong.

Ingredients

½ cup Vegetable oil

2 cups Fermented bagoong (should be pink, avoid the canned sautéed ones)

2 medium Red onions

3 cloves Garlic

1 cup Cane vinegar

1 cup dark brown sugar

3 medium Siling Labuyo (Bird eye chilies)

A dash of Paprika

(and just because I have some, ) dried Habañero pepper powder

Procedure
Sauté garlic in oil until golden brown, add onions and caramelize (a fancy term that simply means to cook on medium heat ‘til translucent and soft). Add bagoong and sauté for a while. Once you’ve evaporated most of the fermenting liquid, add chilies, sugar and vinegar and leave alone ‘til it boils, uncovered. Add paprika and pepper powder, now lower heat to the bare minimum and let all of the liquid simmer out. This is crucial, if you want to keep the cracklings you will add to it crispy and not soggy. When you simmer out all the liquid, which will take, again, time and attention so that you don’t burn the bagoong, you can add the cracklings, which will then soak up all the flavors of the bagoong and keep it like a tight, crispy bagoong flavored crouton. Most people tell me my bagoong looks like corned beef. I say, “Yes, exactly how I remember the bagoong I so love on the green mangoes I ate as a kid”.

Nines vs. Food - Kare Kare - Bagoong Alamang.jpg
Corned Beef? Nah.
The ground roasted peanuts

Now, this is where I become really obsessive. I don’t have access to a wet market, where I buy the pre-ground peanuts I talked about above, as of the moment, and I absolutely despise using peanut butter in Kare Kare. So I really went old school and roasted, then ground, my own. Now, I have absolutely no experience at this and burned the peanuts the first time I tried roasting them, so I got too cautious and barely roasted them in garlic.

Nines vs. Food - Kare Kare - Peanuts.jpg
I'd prefer snacking on these babies but hey, wake up and cook!

Then pounded them out in a mortar and pestle, then I took them to a food processor and added oil to it until it became like a paste.

Nines vs. Food - Kare Kare - Peanuts2.jpg
Not what I had in mind with we promise you with the best results
Trust me, if you can get to a wet market and buy the pre-ground paste, do so. Because I wasn’t able to get the paste to the creamy consistency I wanted. The grinding process, I now learn, is a very important one.

After preparing the paste and the bagoong, make sure that you have your coloring agent ready. In a shallow saucepan, over medium heat, boil up some atsuete (annatto) seeds in vegetable oil (I also added the fat in my beef stock, see below). You’ll get the right amount to color your Kare Kare only be trying it out, I tell you. And oh, boiling it in water simply doesn’t give you the color intensity that you want, so you end up diluting the sauce because you have to add so much water, so get this part right and you won’t need to add much oil.

Nines vs. Food - Kare Kare - Atsuete2.jpg
Get that right amount of color using Annato Seeds

Adding the beefy punch

Traditionally, Kare Kare’s protein is Ox tail and tripe. What I found, however, was that this combination resulted in an overly fatty sauce, with the gelatinous tail and tripe adding too pungent a taste to the sauce. So what I often do is go halfway and use a bony part of the cow instead of the ox tail. This time I used ribs, because the bones kick up the beef flavor without the fat.

And oh, I added some stock I made a while back.

Pinoy Beef Stock
Because Western recipes for stock calls for wine, see demi glace, I opted to omit the wine and went easy on the celery because these would introduce a very alien flavor profile to Kare Kare. I also roasted some garlic with the bones, because, we’ll, I’m Pinoy and a garlic addict.

Ingredients

½ kilo Beef bones (pick ones with a lot of bone marrow) and fat trimmings (honestly, they’re cheap, go get some the next time you buy beef)

1 large Carrot, cubed to large pieces

1 large White onion, cubed to large pieces

A stalk Celery, cut up into large pieces

A head Garlic, cut out the hard base

Water

Salt and pepper

Procedure

In an oven safe pan, brown beef bones in a bit of oil. Prep the other aromatics. When the bones and fat are properly browned, switch off heat and add all of the other ingredients, except the water, and stick into a pre-heated oven (I don’t own an oven thermometer and don’t trust the assumptions on the oven knob) in medium heat. Roast until everything is roasted golden, probably 20-35 mins. After roasting, put back on the stove top at medium heat, deglaze the pan by adding water and simmering for another ten minutes. Strain, coax bone marrow out of the bones and about a clove of the now roasted garlic and mash into the stock and store. It freezes well and can store for two weeks in the fridge. Use this for anything, from gravy to Bulalo. Trust me, the beefy punch is worth all of the effort.

Now that we have the basics ready, let’s start building the Kare Kare.

Ingredients in making Kare Kare

Ingredients

1 ½ kilos Beef ribs, cut up in large chunks

1 kilo Ox tripe, cut up into cubes

1 head Banana heart, remove hard outer layers ‘til you get to the white, soft part

4 large pieces Eggplants

5 heads Pechay (Chinese cabbage), cut out the white part from the green

String beans (I really have no measurement reference since we get them in bunches here), cut up into short strings

Pre-prepared beef stock, bagoong alamang and peanut paste

Procedure

Boil the ox trip first with a bit of ginger for 30 mins or so, get rid of the scum and drain the boiling water. Add fresh water, beef stock, and beef ribs, boil ‘til fork tender. Stopping here will ensure that when you finish cooking, the beef will be fall-off-the-bones-tender. Set aside.

Wash and prep string beans and pechay, keeping their sizes about the same. Simply wash banana heart and eggplants without cutting them. Set aside.

In a large wok, sauté some of the bagoong. Just enough to flavor the beef, remember, traditionally, the bagoong is served on the side so that diners can add as much, or as little, as they want. You just want to give the beef a bit of a hint of flavor. Scoop up the beef ribs and tripe from the stock and sauté in the bagoong. Once you’re happy with it, add ¾ of the stock and bring to a boil, the remaining stock can be used to thin out the sauce if it gets too thin, or you can take a shot of it if you don’t need it.

Only cut up the beef heart right before you put it in, because if you cut it up beforehand, it oxidizes really quickly and turns sickly grey. So cut them up just before the stock boils and thrown them in as quickly as you can. Cook them off for about three minutes, while you cut up the eggplants to large wedges (they oxidize quickly too) and add them to the wok. At this point, add the peanut paste so that you can adjust without overcooking the veg. Add the atsuete colored oil, of course, sieve out the seeds so that you get both the consistency and color correct before adding the more dainty vegetables. Taste it, it should be a bit bland.

Nines vs. Food - Kare Kare2.jpg

After about three more minutes after you add the eggplants, add in the white part of the pechay, cook for another minute and add the string beans. You should be real close now, the eggplants soft but still retaining its shape, the banana hearts cooked through (note that they have a sticky paste in them and this will thicken up the sauce a bit) and the pechay stalks and string beans fork tender. I often add the pechay leaves right after I turn off the heat and just mix them through.

You know what, after all the prep, I managed to botch the plating and ended up with sorry looking pictures. (I suuuuuuuuuuck at plating and am still learning food photography) But what the heck, it was awesome. Serve with the bagoong on the side. The addition of the home made stock really upped the beefy undertones and it really was the best tasting Kare Kare I’ve made thus far.



Author's Bio:
I’ve been cooking for 11 years now, growing up around two HS friends who cook as zealously as I do, Marvin Gaerlan and Bojji Catama. We have had no formal training but our shared zeal has pushed each other to grow and explore cooking seriously. We had a resto a few years back and it failed.

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2 responses

  1. Love the cooking!!
    Love the cook!!

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  2. i will definitely try this at home. I was thinking to blanched the greens (bok choy, cabbage, green beans) separate. to keep the color and the texture not to soggy. Also for presentation it'll look nice on the plate as well ;)

    ReplyDelete