This is a hearty, easy one-pot meal is made by simply simmering everything together on the stovetop. The ingredients are available all year round, but nilagang baka is ideal for chilly days, as the warmth of the stockpot heats up the kitchen. It is sheer comfort food, especially when served with steamed rice.
One of the best things about this Filipino classic is wherever you are in the world, you can cook this dish with the most basic ingredients.
What Is Nilagang Baka?
Nilagang baka, or beef nilaga, is a Filipino stew of tender beef cubes simmered in a clear broth with potatoes, carrots, and leafy greens. The savory flavors come from the richness of the meat, garlic, onions, and a dash of patis (fish sauce).
Nilaga is the Tagalog term for ‘boiled’, a cooking method of simmering meats, fish, or vegetables in water or clear broth. Cooking can be done in a deep stockpot over a simmering low fire or on the stovetop for a couple of hours (as in this recipe).
What Does Nilagang Baka Taste Like?
Nilagang baka has hints of saltiness thanks to the tablespoons of patis (fish sauce) added to the broth. According to food historian Doreen G. Fernandez, this kind of saltiness is a Filipino taste preference because our food is eaten against the bland background of rice. Rice is typically steamed plain, making it a good backdrop for salty sauces.
According to Fernandez, the best patis is not fishy-smelling at all, but usually amber-colored and aromatic. I purchase fish sauce from Asian markets or online sources.
What Kind of Beef to Use
Beef nilaga typically calls for beef chuck or stew meat. If available, you can use beef shanks which have rich marrow in the middle of the bone (this type of beef nilaga is called bulalo).
Beef has become pricey in the last few years, so I mix up the beef cuts I use for nilaga, using both stew meat and beef short ribs.
Great for Beginners
This is one of the easiest Filipino all-in-one meals to prepare. When friends who are new to Philippine cooking want to learn a recipe, this nilagang baka is the dish I recommend.
When I have time during weekends, I cook the meat until it is incredibly tender, then I freeze the mixture for another day. Before a busy weeknight, I can take it out of the freezer, thaw it, and reheat. I add the vegetables at the end of cooking.
Easy Swaps and Substitutions
You can swap up to 4 cups of the water for beef stock or broth for more depth of flavor. Sweet potatoes are a nice addition or can be swapped for the potatoes in the recipe. For the greens, you can use Napa cabbage or bok choy in place of the green cabbage.
The vegetables in this recipe are flexible, and you can increase the quantity and variety of according to what’s in season or your preference.
- Garlic Fried Rice
- Chicken Adobo
- Pork Asado de Carajay
- Pancit Bihon (Filipino Rice Noodles)
- Grilled Pork Skewers
Prepare the beef:
Wash the beef in cold water. Pat dry with paper towels.
Add the beef stew cubes and the beef short ribs to a large mixing bowl. Sprinkle the baking soda all over the meat, making sure to spread all around evenly. Let the baking soda marinate for 30 minutes. This will help tenderize the meat.
After exactly 30 minutes, wash off the baking soda from the beef cubes and pat dry with paper towels. Set aside.
Cook the nilagang baka:
Add the oil to a large stockpot over medium heat. When the oil is hot, add the onion, garlic, and white scallions and sauté until fragrant, about 2 minutes.
Add the beef followed by the water. Add the fish sauce and stir to combine. Cover and cook over medium heat, simmering the beef until soft and tender, about 2 hours. Pierce the beef with a fork—it should be fall off the bone tender.
Cook the vegetables:
Add the potatoes and carrots and stir. Continue cooking until the vegetables are tender, about 15 to 20 minutes. Add the green beans and cabbage and mix well.
Cover the pot and continue cooking until the greens are tender, about 10 minutes.
Season with salt and pepper.
Ladle the meat, vegetables, and broth into a large tureen or soup bowl. Sprinkle the scallion greens on top for garnish. Serve piping hot with steamed rice and a side of fish sauce. Diners can use the fish sauce to adjust the flavor and saltiness of the stew.
If there are leftovers, store them in a covered container in the fridge for up to 4 days.
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