Bistek, adapted from the phrase “beef steak” and the Spanish beef dish “bistec,” is a popular Filipino dish. And for good reason—fragrant citrus combined with salty soy sauce is hard to resist. The short list of ingredients is likely already in your pantry and easy to find in supermarkets.
Bistek is such a crowd-pleaser that it can transcend from an everyday family meal to elegant party fare. Serve this quick and easy savory dish with a side of steamed rice and a veggie for a wholesome meal.
What is Bistek?
The Philippine bistek, from the Spanish word bistec (a beef and onion dish) and similar to the Italian word bistecca, is one of the more popular ways Filipinos cook beef. The thin, tender slices of beef are braised in citrus and soy sauce until tender.
My Mom used to make bistek a lot with the calamansi that grew in our backyard in Tarlac. Now, as a wife and mother in my American kitchen, this is my go-to quick and easy dish to cook on busy days.
The Key Ingredients
The onion rings sizzling in hot oil give off an irresistible aroma that fills the kitchen. The addition of a refreshing lime-like scent from the sauce surrounds the house invitingly.
Aside from the beef, this recipe needs only a few ingredients. If calamansi (whether fresh or frozen concentrate) is not available, use lemons. When in season, Meyer lemons are closest in flavor and tartness to calamansi.
The onion rings are one of the most important ingredients of this recipe, and make the bistek dish instantly recognizable. Use white onions for a milder flavor. If you prefer a more robust taste, red onions give a sharp accompaniment to the meat.
What Kind of Beef to Use for Bistek
Beef sirloin cuts are traditionally used to make bistek. You can also use beef skirt steak, or, if cost is not an issue, rib eye is superb, too.
I’ve learned from Asian chefs that baking soda is a good meat tenderizer, so I often add it to tough meats. It’s also a good idea to pound the already thin-sliced beef with a meat mallet before marinating. The results will be soft, velvety slices of bistek, cooked in the simplest, easiest way.
Make It Ahead
The best thing about this recipe is that you can make it ahead, freeze it, and then thaw it for a busy day. Refresh it with newly-cooked, crunchy onions and it’s as good as new.
More Filipino Classics
- Pancit Bihon
- Cassava Cake
- Chicken Adobo
- Pork Asado de Carajay
Prepare the beef:
If your beef is thicker than roughly 1/2 inch, slice it lengthwise into thin filets. Cut the beef crosswise into pieces that are 4 inches long. Using a meat mallet, pound the beef on both sides for a few seconds to make it even thinner.
Transfer the beef to a large bowl and sprinkle the baking soda all over. Rub the baking soda into all sides of the meat. Let sit for 15 minutes.
Rinse the baking soda off of the beef. Set aside in a mixing bowl.
Marinate the beef:
Add the calamansi juice (or lemon), soy sauce, and black pepper to the beef. Incorporate the ingredients well. Marinate the beef for 30 minutes. If your kitchen is warm, transfer the bowl to the fridge.
Pan-fry the onions:
Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat and add the oil. When the oil is hot enough, add the sliced onions to the skillet. Cook the onions until they become translucent, 2 to 3 minutes—just enough so that slices release their sweetness but still maintain some crunch.
Using a slotted spoon, remove most of the cooked onions and set aside for the garnish later. Leave about 1/4 of the onions in the skillet to cook with the beef.
Cook the bistek:
In the same skillet using the same oil over medium heat, add the garlic and sauté for 1 minute.
Remove the beef from the marinade in the bowl and set aside the liquids. Add the pieces of beef to the skillet. Do not overlap so that the beef cooks evenly. Cook the beef, flipping halfway, until it is well done, about 10 minutes.
Pour the marinade over the beef. Add the beef broth or water. Continue cooking until the liquid boils for 2 minutes to meld the flavors. Taste, adding salt only if needed.
Arrange the beef on a large, rimmed serving platter. Pour the sauce over the beef. Garnish the top of the meat with the reserved onions. Serve warm with steamed rice.
Keep leftover bistek refrigerated in non-reactive food containers for up to 1 week. You can also freeze for up to 1 month.
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