Whenever someone asks me to describe Filipino flavors, I usually say it’s a mix of Asian and Spanish flavor. In case you didn’t know, the Philippines used to be a Spanish colony before briefly becoming an American territory and then eventually gaining independence. So, a lot of the culture–and especially the cuisine–is influenced by that history. Mechado is a perfect example of this. Yes, this dish is Filipino, but it originally came from Spain.
But in terms of my history with this dish, it runs deep. Similar to other dishes I’ve already posted about, I’ve been eating mechado all my life. Unlike the other dishes, however, it is not one that I immediately learned to make. In fact, it’s one of the last ones I learned to make. If I’m being honest, I was a tad intimidated by it. I’m not actually sure why. I used to think it was really difficult to make and so I stayed away from it. Or maybe it was because my mom made it so well that I thought I’d never be able to live up to it. (It was likely both reasons). Either way, I shied away from learning to make it and focused on other dishes I was more comfortable with.
Turns out I was wrong. Mechado is extremely easy to make, so I’m not sure what made me think otherwise. Maybe because of the beef. So, there are versions of mechado that are made with pork, but I’ve only ever had the beef kind. It’s the only kind I like anyways. The pork kind reminds me too much of menudo. Anyways, other than the beef there’s a tomato-based soup and red bell peppers. That’s pretty much the main components of this dish.
Now, even though it’s easy to cook, it can be quite laborious. It’s not pinakbet-laborious, but it does take a little bit of effort. We start off by marinating the beef chunks in soy sauce, calamansi (a sweet Filipino lemon juice, but regular lemon juice is also fine), and tomato sauce. Let that meat soak in all that good flavor for at least an hour. Then, we fry. One by one sear the edges of the beef chunks on all sides and set aside–but save the marinade! That will come soon.
Next saute onions in the same oil you used to fry the beef. Release that delicious aroma and let it soften. Then return the beef chunks and marinade. Don’t forget to throw in a couple bay leaves to add an extra punch of flavor the the soup! Add enough water to cover the beef and bring it to a boil. Lower the heat to let it simmer until the beef is tender, which will take a while. During this time the beef is essentially braising in the marinade. Add the red bell pepper slices about 10 minutes before it’s done boiling just to let it cook. All that’s left is to make rice and eat up!
Mechado is a favorite among favorites with regards to Filipino dishes. Actually, it’s probably a favorite among favorites in general. It’s one that I find myself craving every once in a while. This is one dish that everyone in my family loves. My brother-in-law, who is not Filipino but does eat some Filipino food, loves mechado. He and my sister eat it all the time! My brother, who eats only chicken and whose wife is vegan, loves mechado too. And of course, my parents and I love it!
Related side story: My lola (grandma) used to cook for me when I was a kid when my mom was at work. So when I got older and started to cook more, I was eager to make something for her. She lives with my aunt now and she doesn’t get to have as much Filipino food as she used to. So I decided that I would bring her some. I was going to visit her around lunch time so I brought rice and mechado–enough for just the two of us. At first she didn’t want to try it. I’m 75% sure it’s because she thought it wasn’t going to be that good. But once I heated up a plate for myself, she could smell it–the savory meat and soury-sweet-salty soup. So then I gave her a little taste and nervously waited for her reaction.
My lola is a typical Filipino woman, in that she has absolutely NO filter. If she thinks you look fat, it will be the first words out of her mouth. Along that same vein, if she hated my cooking, she would definitely have said so. But to my extreme delight and profound pride, she looked at me with a pleasantly surprised look and said, “It’s good!” I heated up a whole serving just for her after that and she ate the whole thing. She also insisted that I leave behind the leftovers for her to eat the next day. She was so shocked I could cook! And I was so pleased that she was so pleased. That validity was truly one of my greatest accomplishments.
Now it’s your turn to try my lola-sanctioned dish. I hope you love it as much as she did. I hope it becomes a favorite among your favorites. Most of all, I hope you come back and tell me all about it! Enjoy!
What’s your greatest cooking accomplishment?
- 2-3 lbs beef chuck chopped into chunks
- salt + pepper + garlic powder to taste
- 1/4 cup soy sauce
- 1/4 cup lemon juice
- 8 oz tomato sauce
- 1 large onion chopped
- 2 small bay leaves
- 1-3 cups water
- 2 large red bell peppers sliced
- 1 tbsp fish sauce
Season the beef chunks with salt, pepper and garlic powder on all sides. Mix in the tomato sauce, soy sauce and lemon juice. Coat the beef well, cover and let it marinate for at least an hour.
Heat oil in a dutch oven on high heat. Drain off excess marinade from the beef. Do not throw away the marinade! Fry the beef until lightly seared on all sides. Remove to a plate or large bowl.
Lower the heat to medium high and drain out all but 1 tbsp of oil. Saute the onion until fragrant and slightly soft, about 3-4 minutes. Add the beef back and toss with the onions.
Pour in the remaining marinade. Add enough water to cover 3/4 of the beef. Add the bay leaves. Bring to a boil. Lower to medium high heat and let it simmer until the beef is tender, about 45 minutes.
In the last 10 minutes of boiling, add the red bell pepper and fish sauce. Bring to a simmer again and continue cooking through. Once the meat is tender and the peppers are cooked, turn off heat and serve with rice!