Bistek Tagalog: Tradition is making it your own

Bistek. A taste of growing up, a meat dish that perfectly balances savory, sweet, and acidic. Lemony meaty goodness, heartily poured over steaming rice, or for the trifecta: Rice, bistek, and a sunny side egg. On the surface, a very simple and straightforward dish, with only 6 ingredients. Beef, Garlic, pepper, soy, Onion, and lemon. It's the pinoy version of steak and onions, all fried and cooked in one pan till the juices from the meat soak and sweeten the onions, the onions add their sweetness to the meat, and holy hells do both contribute to an amazing sauce. It's one of first things I can remember my dad cooking when I was younger. The smell of frying onions and juicy marinated meat sizzling would fill the whole house and I would watch him from the kitchen table as he prepared it. 

Learning a recipe passed down to you means making it your own, based on your own context of taste, and ingredient availability. To compare, my father's Bistek used very thin slices of london broil or top round, leaner meats, and all the ingredients were set to simmer at a medium for a longer period. The meat was delicious but very well done. I use Carne Asada cut meat or a slice pieces from a top sirloin roast that are thicker, with a little more striated fat, and the timing and technique I use have softer moist pieces being cooked to medium. Having some of the native juices of medium cooked meat add just the right amount of iron tang as it mixes with the sauce and onion in your mouth. I also finish it with some roughly chopped cilantro and a fresh squueze of lemon right at serving. Though the techniques have changed, it's still very much home comfort food, a food of my peoples, always cooked in large portions to serve at parties, sunday breakfast, or just to last a few meals worth over the days.


Recipe: Bistek Tagalog (serves 6 regular people, or 3 hungry pinoy men)

Prep time: 1:00 hour, Cook time: 20 minutes

-2.5-Lbs carne asada meat, sliced 1/4-3/8 inch thick
-1/4 cup Soy Sauce
-2 tbsp sugar
-1 tbsp black pepper
-1 clove garlic, minced
-2 lemons
-2 large sweet onions
-2 large frying/saute pans (12") 

In a large non-reactive bowl, mix garlic, onion, sugar, pepper, and meat thoroughly, cover and let marinade at room temperature for an hour. While the meat marinates, place the onion in the fridge, doing so will make it cry free when you chop. When the meat is ready, chop the onion into 1/4 thick sections, and separate into rings. In the pans, add a few tbsps of vegetable oil and heat on high. Once frying temp, evenly distribute the meat to both pans, and turn meat over after 3 mins, cook another 3. The goal is to get fairly light browning. At this stage the meat should be giving up its juices. Transfer the meat to a plate, leaving juices in the pan. drop the onions into both pans and let cook for a few minutes on medium heat. After onions have released their liquid some (but are not yet translucent, put the beef back into the pans on top of the onion, Squeeze the juice of 2 lemons over the meat (one lemon per pan) and let simmer together for another 5 minutes. You want the onion to act as a bit of a barrier so the beef isnt touching the bottom. After five minutes, mix all the ingredients together and cook on high till its bubbling. Place in a serving casserole, pouring sauce last and garnishing with a healthy portion of rough chopped cilantro.