Some of my favorite Filipino recipes are tomato-based dishes, especially the ones that use beef or pork. There are a handful of them and are quite popular throughout the country. Beef mechado, kaldereta, and afritada dishes are served in karinderyas throughout the country at any point in the day which a lot of customers will line up for and in turn, are the first dishes to sold out.
The three Filipino tomato-based dishes that I’ve listed above can get interchanged by a lot of Filipinos but they do have distinct properties that make them unique from each other. I admit that I’m one of those people who get confused by the different names when they all looked essentially alike.
But now that I’m more knowledgable (at least, I like to think), with food and a variety of different Filipino recipes, I can usually spot the difference between the meat and tomato-based dishes that the Philippines have.
Kaldereta typically uses goat meat in its traditional recipe, afritada is the more mainstream tomato stew in the country that everyone can do and is familiar with, and mechado has a unique preparation where the meat is stuffed with a layer of fat for a more savory kick. For this article, we’ll be focusing more on beef mechado, which is one of my favorites.
Beef mechado is definitely one of my favorite everyday Filipino meat dishes to eat for lunch or dinner. It’s a beef dish that’s stewed in tomato sauce and other ingredients and its meat have a layer of pork fat inserted.
This method of preparing the meat to cook was greatly influenced by the Spanish during their colonization of the Philippines. The original mechado recipe uses lean cuts of meat but people wanted that juicy expensive marbled beef that not many can afford. Instead, they used the larding technique where they insert strips of pork fat in the meat.
This not only imitates the look of the expensive marbled beef but also allows the lean meat to become more flavorful, and can be cooked for a longer period without getting dry.
Mecha is a Spanish word (mitsa in Filipino) that means wick, from a candle, is where the dish got its name because it resembles a wick with the stripe pork fat sticking out of the lean beef meat. An interesting bit of history there.
Nowadays, mechado dishes have evolved to suit local tastes and applies local ingredients into the mix to get the delicious tomato-based stew that we know and love today. The dish incorporates several aromatic ingredients such as onions and laurel leaves, flavorful ingredients like calamansi juice and soy sauce, and chunks of vegetables and fruits like carrots, potatoes, and bell peppers for added color and texture.
I find that all the flavors in this dish work in harmony in the palate and makes for a very satisfying meal for lunch or dinner. Add in the fluffy white rice and cool iced tea and this meal can really make my day.
I got to learn a recipe for beef mechado from a friend of mine I’m literally cooking it on an almost weekly basis. The ingredients are really simple and can be bought at any local store or market. We’re not going to use lean cuts of meat but 1 kilo of beef that’s cut into chunks and also ⅛ kilo pork fat that’s cut into strips that we can get from the butcher.
We’re also going to need 4 onions that should be peeled and quartered, 5 medium potatoes that should also be quartered, 1 medium-sized carrot that should be sliced, 2 red peppers that should also be sliced, 2 cups of beef stock, 3 laurel leaves, ¼ cup of vinegar, 2 cups of tomato sauce, ½ cup of tomato paste, 1 cup of soy sauce, and salt and pepper to taste.
The cooking process is quite easy to follow. The first step is cutting the beef chunks in the middle and inserting the stripes of pork fat. In a deep pan, combine the beef, tomato sauce, soy sauce, laurel leaves, and beef stock and bring it to a boil. Once it’s boiling, bring it down to a simmer.
Then add the vinegar and let the pan boil for another minute or two. Add the carrots, potatoes, onions, and bell pepper. Finally, let the whole content of the pan simmer until the potatoes and carrots are cooked.
We now have the delicious and tender beef mechado. Serve with white rice and a cool drink of your choice and enjoy.
Beef Mechado Recipe
- 1 kilo of beef cut into chunks
- 1/8 kilo of pork fat cut into strips
- 4 onions peeled and quartered
- 5 medium potatoes quartered
- 1 medium sized carrot sliced
- 2 red bell pepper sliced
- 2 cups beef stock
- 3 laurel leaves
- ¼ cup vinegar
- 2 cups tomato sauce or ½ cup tomato paste
- 1 cup soy sauce
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Cut beef chunks and insert pork strip at the middle.
- Combine beef, tomato sauce, soy sauce, laurel, and beef stock then bring to a boil and let it simmer.
- Add vinegar and let it boil for a minute or two
- Add potatoes, onions, carrot, and bell pepper.
- Let it simmer until potatoes and carrots are cooked.