Balbakwa (Cebuano Ox Skin and Tail Stew)
Balbakwa originated from Cebu, an island in the Visayas group of islands smack dab in the center of the Philippine archipelago. The spread of this dish may be attributed to the penchant of Cebuanos to travel, added with Cebu being a hob of trade and commerce in the Visayas where many people from outlying islands would come to sell their produce.
There is something about the thickness and almost gluey yet savory consistency of this soup that just goes oh-so-well when nursing a hangover or when you are feeling melancholic while sitting by the window side and listening to the pitter-patter of raindrops falling on the roof. It even goes well for lunch! You can almost always find balbakawa being served on roadside eateries all over Cebu and anywhere there are Cebuanos hanging about. If you are looking for food that will give you that almost dreamlike state of bliss and contentment, then you must try balbakwa!
The history behind this dish seems to be shrouded in mystery and vagaries that only time and the inconsistencies of human memory could ever account for. But, to that unknown, forgotten, and unsung hero who first thought of making a dish out of over-boiled cow tail and skin, he will always be a hero in my eyes and has the undying gratitude of my entrails.
Anyway, have you ever heard someone say “it may be simple, but it’s darn hard!”? Well if you haven’t, try cooking this dish and I assure you sweat will pour and blood will drizzle. Not to mention the swearing. It will be intense, to a point that someone overhearing you will think that you are singing some new hipster-issshh rock song. Nah, just ribbing you. But, anyway, this dish is really labor intensive. So if you want to try cooking this make sure that you start it off with a calm head and be prepared to shed some sweat.
Just like any other superstar dishes in the galaxy of food, there are several takes on how to make balbakwa but they are all unanimous in saying that the best balbakwa is cooked over low heat for hours. Some of these balbakwa variants even feature pork and beans, and even peanut butter just like in Kare-Kare.
Here is the recipe that is, i think, as close to the original as i could get:
1 kilo ox tail (or ox feet) and skin, cut into small pieces
3 tablespoons of salted black beans
4-5 pieces of saba (also known as cardaba) banana, sliced into chunks
1/2 cup of boiled white beans
3 pieces star anise
1 piece (or a big finger) of ginger, minced
5 cloves of garlic, crushed
3 pieces of onions (the red one, not the big ones that are used for salads), quartered
Salt and Pepper
1/2 cup of thinly chopped spring onions (for garnish)
You can add MSG (monosodium glutamate) if you want to add more of that umami flavor
Boil the beef parts (skin, oxtail, ox feet) for about 3-4 minutes then remove the water, do this 3 times so as to get rid of unwanted smell
Note: start counting down the time when the water already starts to boil.
After repeating the first step three times boil again the beef parts but this time add the ginger and about 1 tablespoon of salt, let it simmer till the meat becomes tender and the broth starts to have a thick and sticky consistency.
Note: to be sure of the exact amount of water to use, the technique is to have all the meat almost completely submerged. Make sure also that you will be using medium heat and let the meat slowly cook so that all the flavors will be enfused to the broth. This may take some time so prepare to wait and make sure to stir it a couple of times every now and then to make sure that the meat will not be burnt in the bottom of the pot. Another secret to this recipe would be to add about a couple of grams worth of very small cut pure beef so that it will add to the meaty flavor of the broth.
In another pan, saute the onions and garlic until they become golden brown. Then add the boiled white beans and saute it with the onions and garlic.
Pour the contents of the pan into the broth.
Add the bananas.
Note: Make sure that the bananas will be fairly soft yet still partly firm before you turn off the fire. The end product of the broth should have a thick and sticky consistency and would have a greyish brown color.
Season to taste. And add the chopped spring onions right before you turn off the fire.