When I was a young boy, my father worked at the United States naval base in Subic Bay. Every Christmas, the Filipino workers at the base got to take home a “package” that included such rare goodies as apples, oranges (with the “Sunkist” brand stamped on their skin) and potatoes as large as Papa’s fists put together. But what I really looked forward to when Papa came home with the Christmas package were two things – the giant white marshmallows and the large brown onions.
Ok, so maybe the marshmallows need no explanation. I mean, what kid can refuse a sweet treat that only comes once a year. But onions?
Let me explain. The onions that grew in my part of the world were the Iloko variety that were no bigger than a grown person’s thumb, were purplish-red in colour and had a very strong flavour. Perfect for sauteing where they were meant to be tasted but not seen, they weren’t much good for dishes that required onions to come front and centre. This is where the large brown onions and the onion rings cut from them came into their own. And the most famous of these dishes that required onions to shine was bistek tagalog.
Bistek is a dish that brings together American and Chines culinary elements to come up with something that is uniquely Filipino. Apart from the use of onion rings which is prevalently American, the name bistek is itself a bastardisation of the term “beef steak”. The use of soy sauce as primary flavouring betrays the dish’s Chinese influence. Here’s one of my favourite dish and one that has become a big hit with my kids too.
- 1 kg beef minute steak
- 250 ml Kikkoman soy sauce
- 1 large lemon, juiced
- 6 cloves garlic, peeled and sliced thinly
- 1 tsp coarse-milled black pepper
- 1 tsp powdered onion
- sunflower oil for frying
- 1 large brown onion, cut into 1/2 cm thick rings
How To Cook Bistek Tagalog
In a large bowl, mix the soy sauce, lemon juice and garlic together. Add the minute steak to the marinade, sprinkle with the black pepper and onion powder and mix well. Cover the bowl and refrigerate for at least an hour or better yet, overnight.
Heat a little oil in a pan until shimmering. You want the pan to be as hot as possible without the oil burning. Cooking in batches, lay the steaks flat on the pan in a single layer and fry for about a minute. Turn and fry for another minute and set aside. (The reason they’re called minute steaks is because they cook literally in minutes.) Strain the remaining marinade and set aside.
Add more oil to the same pan, fry the onion rings until almost soft and set aside. Deglaze the pan using the strained marinade and reduce until the sauce has thickened. Return the steaks and the onion rings to the pan and cook for a further minute. Serve with freshly steamed rice.