Bulalo is synonymous with comfort - the epitome of Filipino dining, with nothing but beef, a selection of vegetables and water in each pot of this chunky, hearty stew. I salivate in anticipation of that unctuous broth hitting my tongue, of a clear soup dotted with wisps of collagen swirling about my mouth, warming my palate for the bowl ahead. It's just how you want to feel on a cold, rainy day.
Bulalo is also one of those dishes I've long hesitated to make. I knew it would take it hours, and if entire rows of restaurants in the Southern Tagalog city of Batangas have laid claim to making the world's (okay, maybe the Philippines') best bulalo - would anything I make at home level up to the sumptuous soups I remember?
Throughout the process of learning to cook the Filipino dishes I love, my favourite personal discoveries involve understanding what each particular cooking method does to the ingredients I'm working with. Making bulalo is simple enough in procedure: take beef shanks and place them in a pot, cover them with water, bring to a boil while skimming the scum that foams above the broth (an action repeated several times throughout the recipe), add vegetables, serve while piping hot. Set a little spoon aside for coaxing that delicious marrow out of the bones - the best part of bulalo!
Bulalo Recipe: Beef Shanks with Corn, Potatoes and Cabbage
Bulaloinks! I should find out why my family gave that name to this stew...
1.5 kg beef shanks (about 3 lbs.)
2 large or 3 small beef bones (which you can ask from your butcher)
2 onions (quartered)
2 potatoes (quartered)
2 corn cobs (husks removed, each cut into 3 pieces)
½ head green cabbage (cut into wedges)
2 heads bok choy (trimmed)
¼ cup fish sauce
2 scallions (green parts only, chopped)
Rinse beef shanks and bones under cold running water. Place these in a large saucepan or stockpot capable of holding 3 litres. Bring to a boil over high heat; skim the scum that rises to the top of the liquid. This is an important part - it's best to use a flat ladle here. (For those who've never made stock before, the "scum" is the foamy, white-to-brown residue that floats to the top of the liquid, a result of the protein in the beef bones becoming denatured by heat. If you don't take this out, your broth becomes cloudy.)
Once you've skimmed the broth, turn the heat to low. Add onions, then cover and simmer for 2-3 hours, or until the beef shanks are tender and the meat easily separates from the bone. (Turn up the music, finish a couple of chores or do whatever you want with this time! I caught up with Begin Japanalogy, an NHK World series with lots of food-focused episodes.)
Add potatoes and turn the heat up to medium; cook for 10 minutes. Toss in the corn; cook for 5 minutes. Then toss in the cabbage and cook for 5 minutes more. Add the bok choy, cook for a minute until wilted, then fish the cabbage and bok choy out and set aside (they will otherwise overcook). Stir in fish sauce, along with several turns of freshly cracked pepper and two pinches of salt.
To serve, ladle the bulalo into deep bowls. Aim to leave enough room for each ingredient; you'll want some bone, chunks of beef, potatoes, cabbage, bok choy and corn in every bowl! Sprinkle with scallions and serve with steamed rice.