Bowl of kare kare set next to ramekin of shrimp paste and serving bowl of white rice
Rezel Kealoha

The origins of kare-kare—a peanut butter-based curry made with oxtail, tripe, and a wide variety of vegetables—are unclear, but there are a number of theories. It was invented in Pampanga, the culinary epicenter of the Philippines; it was originally a traditional dish of the Moro people, the native inhabitants of the archipelago; it was an attempt by Indian soldiers on British ships trying to recreate curry far from home using local annatto seeds and peanuts.

Regardless of its origins, at its core, kare-kare is comfort food, which is evident in its name. In the Philippines, if something is particularly good or desirable, it’s common practice to say its name twice, so since “kare” means “curry,” you could say that a loose translation of kare-kare is “really good curry.”

The way kare-kare is prepared and the ingredients typically used in its preparation highlight several important elements of Filipino culinary culture. Historically, most Filipinos were farmers, and like several other iconic dishes, kare-kare is a slow-cooked, one-pot affair, perfect for those who had early and long days out in the fields. The inclusion of oxtail and tripe reflects Filipinos’ embrace of a nose-to-tail eating approach and minimizing waste, and has some historical resonance, since these parts of the animal, along with other offal, were considered undesirable by Spanish colonizers. The array of vegetables added to the curry varies from region to region, depending on seasonality and availability, but nowadays typically includes long green beans, eggplants, banana blossoms, and bok choy, a mix of both native ingredients and ingredients introduced to the archipelago by international trade. 

Other ingredients also point to the way a mix of different culinary cultures have combined in the Philippines. The roasted peanuts that are ground into a paste and used to both thicken and flavor the curry, which arguably make the dish unique, point to Malay influence, and the annatto seeds (“atsuete” in Tagalog) used to tint the curry its distinctive burnt-red point to the ways in which the Spanish galleon trade introduced ingredients from Mexico.

My recipe for this rich, bold dish begins with searing then simmering the fatty oxtails with garlic, onion, scallion trimmings, and water. This long simmer yields a meaty, flavorful broth that I use to build the peanut butter-based sauce. Once you have that broth in hand, the sauce is a snap to pull together: sauté garlic and onions and combine them with the broth, peanut butter, toasted rice flour, annatto powder, and ginisang bagoong (fermented shrimp paste). To round out the dish, the vegetables are tossed with fish sauce and oil and roasted until tender. 

Served with white rice and more ginisang bagoong to provide a salty, umami kick, kare-kare is a dish that encapsulates the history and adaptability of Filipino cuisine, but it’s also just really good curry.

Adjust oven rack to top position and preheat to 350°F (175°C). Spread rice flour on a rimmed baking sheet. Bake, shaking pan occasionally, until lightly browned, about 15 minutes. Transfer toasted rice flour to a small bowl; set aside.

Rice flour on a baking sheet
Rezel Kealoha

In a large Dutch oven, heat 2 tablespoons (30ml) oil over medium-high heat until shimmering. Using tongs, add oxtails and cook, turning occasionally, until well browned on all sides, about 15 minutes. Transfer oxtails to plate; set aside.

Oxtails browning in a Dutch oven
Rezel Kealoha

Add half of the garlic (30g), half of the onion (58g), and scallion trimmings to Dutch oven. Cook, stirring occasionally, on medium-high heat until garlic is golden brown and onions are translucent, about 3 minutes.

Aromatics for kare kare frying in a Dutch oven
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Return oxtails to Dutch oven along with 4 quarts (3.8L) water. Bring to boil, cover partially with lid, and cook for 1 1/2 hours, skimming any fat and scum that accumulates on the surface. Lower heat to maintain a simmer, cover, and continue to cook until oxtails are tender, about 3 hours.  

Oxtails and aromatics covered in water in a Dutch oven
Rezel Kealoha

Add bok choy and cook until bottoms are translucent, about 2 minutes. 

Tongs lifting bok choy out of oxtail broth in a Dutch oven
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Using tongs, remove bok choy and oxtails and transfer to a large heatproof bowl; set aside. Using an immersion blender, purée the braising liquid in the Dutch oven (if you don’t have an immersion blender, you can transfer liquid to a blender). Strain liquid through a fine-mesh strainer set over a large heatproof bowl; reserve strained liquid (you should have about 3 cups; 710ml).

Immersion blender sunk into kare kare oxtail braising liquid
Rezel Kealoha

Meanwhile, adjust oven rack to lower-middle position and increase oven temperature to 375°F (190°C). In a large mixing bowl, toss eggplant and beans with 3 tablespoons (45ml) oil and fish sauce. Spread eggplant and beans on rimmed baking sheet and roast until tender, about 15 minutes. Set aside.

Roasted eggplant and long beans on a baking sheet
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In a 4-quart saucepan, heat remaining 1 tablespoon (15ml) oil over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add remaining garlic and onion. Cook, stirring occasionally, until garlic is golden brown and onions are translucent, about 3 minutes.  

Garlic and onion frying in a saucepan
Rezel Kealoha

Stir in 1 cup (235ml) reserved braising liquid, peanut butter, toasted rice flour, annatto powder, and ginisang bagoong. If you want your sauce to be less viscous, stir in reserved braising liquid in 1/4 cup (60ml) increments to reach desired consistency (save remaining braising liquid for another use). (If you prefer a smooth sauce, use an immersion blender to smooth it out; if you don’t have an immersion blender, you can transfer sauce to a blender). 

Kare kare sauce in a saucepan with a whisk
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Arrange oxtails, bok choy, eggplant, and beans in serving bowls. Spoon sauce on top, then garnish with scallions, peanuts, and fried garlic. Serve with rice and additional ginisang bagoong alongside.

Serving bowl of kare kare with bok choy, oxtails, roasted eggplant and long beans on top
Rezel Kealoha

Special equipment

Large Dutch oven, immersion blender, 4-quart saucepan.

Notes

If you want to substitute tripe for oxtails, I recommend using book tripe, not honeycomb tripe; book tripe has a softer yet chewy texture that I prefer. Most tripe is bleached, so before you cook it, rinse it under cold running water.  Once clean, boil the tripe in salted water for 10 minutes. Using tongs, remove the tripe from the water (discard the water) and rinse the tripe under cold running water. In Step 4, add tripe to the Dutch oven and simmer until tripe is tender with a slight chewy bite, between 1 to 2 hours. Proceed with the recipe as directed. 

Avoid using commercial-style peanut butter, which has added sugar, because it will add a noticeable sweetness that doesn’t fit the flavor profile of the dish. 

Ginisang bagoong is fermented shrimp paste that has been sautéed with onion, garlic, vinegar, and sugar. It can be found in Filipino or Asian specialty markets and online.

If you have a pressure cooker or electric multicooker (such as an Instant Pot), you can sear the oxtails and then sauté the garlic, onions, and scallions trimmings in it instead of a Dutch oven; then return oxtails to the cooker and fill with water to the max-fill line. Cook at high pressure for 1 hour and 15 mins.  Proceed with the recipe as directed. This process saves you time, but you’re sacrificing the amount of broth you can keep for future use.

Make-ahead and Storage

Leftover braising liquid can be frozen in an airtight container for up to 1 month.

The sauce can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 3 days or frozen for up to 1 month.

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