Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Nilagang baka – Philippine beef stew

Nilagang baka or beef nilaga means boiled beef in Filipino and in the Philippines refers most commonly to a dish of boiled beef with vegetables in a soupy broth.  It is a simple hearty Filipino stew, a prime example of Filipino home cooking (lutong bahay).  The easy recipe using common ingredients found in almost any Filipino kitchen makes it a popular Filipino dish.


The beef and green leafy vegetables such as cabbage (repolyo), napa cabbage (petsay wombok), and/or bok choy (petsay) are usually cut into fairly large chunks and stewed in a broth (sabaw) flavored with onions (sibuyas), fish sauce (patis) and black peppercorns (paminta).  Potatoes (patatas), green beans (bitsuelas) and/or saba bananas are sometimes added; there is nilagang baka with chunks of corn on the cob too. The cut of beef usually used is one suitable for stewing. For a nilagang baka recipe beef shin (also called beef shank) is a good choice and maybe beef brisket.  

Beef Nilaga: Soup or Stew?

Sometimes nilagang baka is referred to in English as a beef soup, probably because of its light watery broth but, with its ingredients usually cut into large chunks, it can also be considered closer to a beef stew.  It is often served in an earthenware bowl called a palayok from which the nilagang baka is ladled into bowls for each individual, then eaten with rice over which the broth is often drizzled.  Sometimes the big leafy vegetables are cooked separately and combined with the rest of the dish just before serving or at the table.

Nilagang Bulalo

A version of the dish including bones and marrow is called nilagang bulalo.  The beef bones and marrow of the nilagang bulalo recipe add fatty content and calories but give the stock a richer deeper flavor.  A nilagang bulalo restaurant is called a bulaluhan.  Tagaytay and Batangas are known for such Filipino food eateries.

Cooking Tips

In cooking nilagang baka, one might wish to take the preliminary step of first boiling the beef in some water that is then removed (i.e. blanching the beef) before refilling the pot or dutch oven with more water and continuing to cook the stew proper. This cooking procedure helps remove or reduce beef scum that will otherwise need to be ladled out to prevent it from giving the dish a gamey taste and aroma. Some cooks, however, feel the blanching process removes too much flavor and are willing to put up with the more tedious process of removing the scum.

For the first heating, the beef should be brought to a boil quickly.  The temperature should then be lowered and the beef left to simmer for a long time at a low temperature.  If the beef is left too long at a high temperature it is more likely to turn out tough instead of tender.


Similar to nilagang baka is kansi an Ilonggo dish that incorporates batuan fruit.  Another dish with overlapping characteristics is puchero which is usually distinguished by the addition of tomato sauce and saba bananas which sweeten the dish.  Nilagang baka also seems to have parallels with Austrian tafelspitz and Irish (Irish-American?) corned beef and cabbage, a resemblance that becomes more pronounced in nilagang baka versions that use corned beef as has become the fashion in some local restaurants.

Nilagang baka is said to be a favorite of Manny Pacquiao's and is part of his eating regimen when preparing for a bout.

If ever left with some beef shin but falling short of the aromatics required for pho or Chinese red cooked stew and not knowing what to else cook, nilagang baka is an option.

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