Kare-kare, a slow-cooked stew featuring oxtail or pork leg braised till tender in a rich peanut sauce, has long been a mainstay of weekend dinner tables and the groaning boards typical of the local fiesta scene. As stated, it’s usually made with hearty oxtail or fat pork legs both cooked until the meat is so tender that it falls apart when you prod it with a fork. However, many home cooks, restaurateurs, and institutional caterers have put their own spin on classic kare-kare, using unconventional ingredients to either make the most of seasonal produce or use up leftovers to prevent wasting food.
Seafood kare-kare is one such variation on the theme. Here, fresh squid or cuttlefish, mussels, and chunks of fish – usually chunks of fresh tuna belly or blue marlin – are simmered in the peanut sauce. The addition of finely-cut slivers of ginger keeps the dish from getting too odiferous for diners and, by serving it with bagoong alamang [fermented shrimp paste], the briny condiment brings out the sweetness of the aquatic ingredients. It is also considerably healthier than the beefy or porky original, so it goes over well with dieters.
On the other hand, some cooks use leftover lechong kawali [deep-fried pork belly with crunchy, crackling skin] or crispy pata [deep-fried pork knuckle] as their protein of choice. The end-result is a shortcut version called crispy kare-kare which is, nevertheless, quite a treat as the bits and bobs of pork are fried to a crunchy golden-brown and provide a contrast to the sauce-softened vegetables. It is not the most diet-friendly dish, but it goes down a treat.
Both of my favourite variations of kare-kare are sold at our regular lunch provider, Tezman Convenience Store over on the Upper West Side of the BGC. The seafood version (P 60.00 per bowl) is loaded with good things: while the mussels are few and far in between, the generous chunks of marlin and squid make up for it. The crispy version (P 55.00 per bowl), on the other hand is an excellent go-to dish for lunch as it is crunchy, flavourful, and highly satisfying.
Tezman Convenience Store: Ground Floor – Kensington Place, 1st St., Bonifacio Global City, Taguig