Kare-Kare (Filipino Beef or Oxtail Stew)

Every good cook in the Philippines has his or her own version of this stew. One thing remains constant, and that is the fact that this is a big, heavy meal usually served for lunch on Sundays or holidays, so that it may be followed by a siesta.

Serves 8.


3 tablespoons oil
2.5 kg/5 lb oxtail or 2 kg/4 lb shin of beef
3 teaspoons salt
2 tablespoons annatto seeds
2 large onions, finely sliced
1 tablespoon finely chopped garlic
2 litres/4 pints/8 cups water
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
4 tablespoons roasted and ground rice
4 tablespoons crushed roasted peanuts
1 banana blossom
250 g/8 oz green beans
250 g/8 oz slender eggplants (aubergines)
3 spring onions (scallions), sliced
3 tablespoons chopped Asian celery leaves
fish sauce to taste


Ask the butcher to trim the oxtail of excess fat and cut it into joints. If using shin of beef, ask him to saw it into thick slices. Season meat with salt on all sides.

In a large, heavy pan heat the oil and brown the meat in batches. Transfer to a plate on a slotted spoon and in the fat remaining in pan fry the annatto seeds, keeping a lid on the pan to prevent seeds jumping out. The oil should become a bright orange colour. Remove pan from heat, remove seeds with perforated spoon and discard. In the same oil cook the onions and garlic, stirring occasionally, until soft. Return meat to pan and add water and pepper. Bring to the boil, then cover pan and simmer on low heat until meat is tender - about 2 hours. If time permits, pour off liquid and refrigerate it long enough to be able to remove fat from surface, otherwise skim off as much fat as possible before proceeding with last stage of recipe.

Combine roasted ground rice and crushed peanuts. Discard outer bracts of banana blossom until the inner, tender portion is reached. Steam for 10 minutes, then cut in halves lengthways and across into slices. Top and tail beans, string if necessary and cut into bite-sized pieces. Wash but do not peel eggplants, and cut into thick diagonal slices. If only large eggplants are available, cut into lengthways wedges.

Add vegetables and the rice and peanut combination to the pan, stirring gently. Simmer until vegetables are tender and gravy thick. Add 2 tablespoons fish sauce and taste to see if more is needed. Sprinkle with chopped spring onions and celery. Serve with rice, and sauces such as soy sauce, fish sauce, chilli sauce, or the Filipino favourite made from equal amounts of bagoong (shrimp paste) and lime juice.

It is possible to buy roasted ground rice powder in small packets. If not available, it is simple enough to make. Roast rice in a heavy frying pan without oil and stir constantly or shake pan to let grains gradually become a deep golden colour. Pulverise in a blender or pound with a mortar and pestle. Sift through a strainer and discard coarse pieces.

Recipe excerpted from Encyclopedia of Asian Food by Charmaine Solomon (Periplus Editions, 1998)