Learn how to make Filipino kare kare the easier way! This recipe uses regular beef cuts which are much more accessible than tripe and oxtail. You can use store-bought peanut butter or homemade peanut butter. Whichever way you go, the key is using the right kind.
What is Kare Kare?
Kare Kare (pronounced as kah-reh ka-reh) is a Filipino peanut-based stew. It’s thick, rich, and probably one of the most luxurious and hearty food you’ll ever eat.
I tried to trace the origin of the word “kare-kare” and only found a few snippets (check the history section). Believed to have derived from the word “kari/khari”, a Tamil word that means curry referring to ‘sauce’ or ‘relish for rice‘.
Ah… the perks of this job. I’m learning so many interesting things about our food.
The distinct flavor of kare kare comes from the combination of roasted peanuts and toasted rice. It’s earthy, slightly sweet, rich, yet mild-tasting. The sauce is deliberately underseasoned. Somewhat similar to African peanut stew and satay peanut sauce but mellower as it doesn’t involve any spices.
No umami? Of course not. Filipino foods are never without umami.
The reason why the base peanut sauce is made that way is it needs to make way for the saltiness/umami-ness of the shrimp paste (bagoong-alamang). It is never served without it. It essentially brings the flavor of the meat, the peanut, and other ingredients together.
Traditional kare kare is made with oxtail and beef tripe. However, they do take time to prepare so we won’t be using those in this recipe.
To make the preparation and cooking process a lot easier, here’s what I used:
- Beef – best cuts of beef for kare kare are beef brisket, beef chuck, and beef shank. These cuts take longer to tenderize but not as long as the cooking time of oxtail. The fat content is also just enough. Hence, I don’t see the need to skim it off (except for the brisket).
- Meat Broth or Water – you can use either but I’d go with the broth if available. Use the low-sodium kind.
- Fish Sauce – don’t panic purist! We need just a hint.
- Kare-Kare Mix – more details here.
- Peanut Butter – more details here.
- Sugar – I prefer the sauce to be on the sweeter side. Skip this if preferred.
How to Make It
And here’s how to make the best and easiest kare kare:
Here are the key steps:
- Sear the beef in hot oil until brown. See those charred bits and pieces of meat and marinade? That’s the key to making your kare kare sauce delicious! You don’t have to do this on all of the beef pieces. Just do half of the portion to save time.
- Cook the beef until tender. This can take 1 hour or more depending on the size of the meat. If you want to shorten the cooking time, use an Instant Pot or pressure cooker. The cooking time should only take 30 minutes.
- Kare-kare vegetables cook evenly without the peanut butter and thickeners so add it to the pot after the beef becomes tender and before adding the peanut butter. Simmer until just done then remove from the pot.
- Dissolve the kare-kare mix in warm water before adding it to the beef.
- Add the peanut butter and simmer until the sauce thickens.
That’s it! So easy!
Serving Kare Kare on Special Occasions
Making kare kare for Christmas, New Year, or potluck gathering? Cook the vegetables separately to retain their beautiful colors.
For the long beans (sitaw) and bok choy (pechay), cook in salted boiling water until tender. Plunge in ice water to stop the cooking process. Drain in a colander and pat dry with a paper towel.
For the eggplant, fry in hot oil until soft and tender.
Place on top of kare kare just before serving.
The best Peanut Butter for Kare Kare
Here are the two types of peanut butter that you can use to make the sauce:
Homemade Roasted Peanut Butter
It’s the best of the best among the rest.
The roasted peanut flavor, to say the least, is more pronounced when using homemade peanut butter. It makes the kare kare taste like the ones that your grandma’s makes back home in the Philippines.
All you need is a pan and a food processor. It’s that easy and simple.
Store-bought Peanut Butter
The next best peanut butter is all-natural peanut butter. Check the ingredients list and make sure that there are only peanuts and salt in there. No hydrogenated oils, sugar, or other ingredients. If you can manage to find a brand with dark roasted peanuts or dry roasted, all the better.
All-natural peanut butter looks like the above photo. Its natural oil separates and surfaces at the top. You have to stir it before using it.
Kare Kare Mix–the best shortcut!
It really is. And, it is not cheating (someone actually said this to me when I mentioned using this mix). Note this is not an ad or sponsored post.
If you’re a busy Mama like me and don’t have a lot of time to spend in the kitchen, then this is the perfect alternative to ‘made from scratch sauce.
Using this mix serves three purposes:
- Give the sauce its distinct orange color – which means you don’t have to buy and prepare atsuete powder /annatto seeds separately.
- Thickens the sauce – the rice flour is the key ingredient to making that rich velvety sauce.
- Toasted rice flavor – this means you don’t have to toast and ground the rice, saving you a lot of time. When you open the pack, give it a quick whiff and you’ll see that it does smell like toasted rice.
The only thing lacking in this mixture is the robust peanut flavor. Hence, it is important to include good-quality peanut butter in the recipe.
Serve and Storage
Pour over warm rice and serve with steamed or boiled vegetables then top with shrimp paste (bagoong guisado). The contrasting flavors are amazingly delicious when eaten all together in ONE BIG spoonful.
It can last in the fridge for up to 3 to 4 days and be stored in an air-tight container.
To reheat, place in a pot and add a little bit of hot water or meat broth to loosen the sauce.
Frequently asked questions:
All the essentials and nothing else–peanuts, rice flour, sugar, salt, and annatto powder.
Annatto seeds or atsuete as we call them in the Philippines are what gives the sauce its orange-ish color. It’s a natural food coloring from the plant called achiote tree.
Eggplant (talong), string beans (sitaw), pechay (bok choy), and banana heart are the popular ones. But you can also use green beans, spinach leaves, nai bai, and zucchini.
Pork hock, crispy pork belly, and chicken can also be used. Check out my Creamy Chicken Kare Kare recipe here.
Watch How to Make It
More beef recipes…
Easy Kare Kare Recipe
- 2 tbsp vegetable oil (I used canola)
- 1 kg beef chuck or brisket (cut into cubes)
- 5 cloves garlic (finely chopped)
- 1 tbsp fish sauce
- 1 med-size onion (sliced)
- 5 cups beef broth-low sodium (or water)
- 1 pack Kare Kare mix (to be dissolve in 1/2 cup water)
- ½ cup all-natural peanut butter (homemade or storebought)
- 1 ½ tbsp brown sugar (add more if preferred)
- stir-fried/guisado bagoong-alamang (to serve)
- eggplant (sliced)
- string beans/sitaw (cut into 3 inch lengths)
- bunch bok choy (see notes)
- Heat 2 tbsp oil in a large pot over medium-high heat. Sear the pieces of beef on both sides until brown. Transfer to a plate. Add the onions and garlic. Cook until fragrant and translucent. Add back the beef and pour the fish sauce. Simmer for 1 minute.
- Pour the beef broth. Bring to a boil then lower the heat to medium. Let it cook until fork tender. This could take 1 to 2 hours depending on the cut of the beef. For shorter cooking time, pressure cook for 30 minutes on high pressure then manually quick release.
- Dissolved kare kare mix in 1/2 cup water. Set aside.
- When the beef is tender, add the string beans and eggplant. Cook for 2 minutes. Add bok choy simmer for another minute (see note 1 for cooking alternative).
- Pour kare kare mix dissolved in water, peanut butter, and sugar. Stir to dissolved. Simmer for another 1 minute then scoop out the vegetables and transfer to a plate. Continue simmering the sauce until it thickens. Taste, add more sugar if preferred.
- Serve with the vegetables, bagoong-alamang and enjoy with a warm cup of rice.
Recipe Notes & Tips:
- Alternative cooking method for the vegetables: Boil a pot of water with 1 teaspoon of salt. Cook the string beans for 2 minutes. Add the bok choy, cook for 2 minutes. Immediately remove and transfer to a plate. You can boil the eggplants as well (cook until just tender) or fry in hot oil.
- Other vegetable suggestions: Banana heart (puso ng saging), green beans, spinach leaves, nai bai and zucchini.
- Shelf-life and storage: Kare Kare can last in the fridge for up to 3 to 4 days stored in an air-tight container. To reheat, place in a pot and add a little bit of hot water or meat broth to loosen the sauce.