Kare-kare was the first local dish to grasp my taste buds after moving to Manila. With a peanut butter base not unlike a satay sauce, the Malay influenced Pampanga favourite is usually made with oxtail and tripe. Although anything from pig hocks, chicken, vegetables to fish are well loved. Mild, rich and savoury, a typical Filipino comfort dish.
The ingredients are simple: garlic, onions, peanut butter, toasted rice flour. Salt, pepper, sugar, and Bagoóng – the Filipino fermented shrimp paste. Like anchovies, durian or Epoisses, it’s either passionately hated or wholeheartedly loved. Like many fermented seasonings, good Bagoóng is the ultimate savoury bliss, like in the trendy term – umami.
For the oxtail/tripe version, the meat and bone is first blanched then simmered with onions and pepper for hours until fork tender, the soup saved as broth and reduced into the peanut sauce. If fish is used it is first coated with flour then fried, set aside and added back in the end. I have made the chicken version here which is the simplest, satisfying a last minute craving.
1kg – boneless Chicken thighs, cut into 5cm chunks
4 – garlic cloves, chopped
2 – onions, chopped
4L – broth/water
1/4 cup – roasted rice flour, as in rice flour roasted on clean dry pan until golden, or rice roasted then blitzed into powder.
1cup – peanut butter, or ideally, peanuts roasted then processed until creamy.
1/4 cup Bagoóng
pepper, salt, sugar.
1. Saute garlic, onions and bagoong (if using), this will help taking the edge off and add a great depth to the flavours.
2. Throw in chicken and brown, add broth, reduce by half.
3. Mix in rice flour to thicken the sauce, mix in peanut butter.
4. Salt, pepper and sugar to taste. Filipino foods love the combination of savoury and sweet so a good tablespoon of sugar won’t go astray. If bagoong is not used soy sauce can be added now to help bulk up the flavours, or “magic sarap” if you don’t mind the MSG.
And done. There are twists like calamansi juice, paprika and chilly, and typically it comes with salted water boiled vegetables like eggplant, snake beans, cabbages, okra and/or cabbage, cooked then thrown into the mix rather than served on the side.
A generous dollop of steamed rice, a little dipping dish of extra bagoong. A tropical comfort dish can be the cure of a stormy temperate winter night.