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What Is Bistek?

Bistek, a savory Filipino classic, marries thinly sliced beef with a tangy marinade of soy sauce and citrus. This comfort dish, often garnished with rings of caramelized onions, offers a harmonious blend of flavors that dance on the palate. Intrigued by how this simple dish captures the essence of Filipino cuisine? Discover the secrets behind its enduring appeal.
Dan Harkins
Dan Harkins

Due to the influence of Spain on the South Asian nation of the Philippines, the Spanish word for steak, bistec, is not much different than the Filipino name for a dish made with the same popular protein, bistek. It is not just a char-grilled piece of prime beef though, as some westerners might suspect. The Filipino version is more expansive, frying the meat with a savory blend of flavors.

The type of meat used for bistek varies by means of the chef. Many use more tender cuts of sirloin, tenderloin or flank steak, but even more pricey cuts like filet mignon or porterhouse would not ruin the dish. These are cut into thick slices about 0.25 inch (about 6.4 mm )thick, which can be pounded out with a meat hammer to make the final product more tender.

Bistek may be made using steak.
Bistek may be made using steak.

A balanced marinade is needed to bring out the tender and flavorful nature of bistek. Filipinos commonly use a combination of soy sauce, minced garlic, salt, pepper and lemon juice for this bath, which lasts in the refrigerator for at least 20 or 30 minutes. More soy should be added if the sauce is too tart, or more juice if it is too salty. When the meat is marinaded, the preparation time is nearly finished.

Into a hot, oiled skillet go slices of onion. When caramelized, they are removed, and the slices of marinated steak go in next. Once the meat is done, it will be seared and it is no longer bloody. Then it is time to combine the meat with the onions and marinade in the pan until all the ingredients are melded and hot.

With a half-hour marination period, this dish should take no more than an hour from start to service. The final step should be tasting the bistek and adding salt, pepper and even more citrus to taste. Hot sauce is a common addition at the table, not by the chef.

Bistek does not hold quite enough components for many to consider it a proper meal, but it is close. Some fry potato slices with the onions, and then serve what is known as bistek tagalog, which still can be prepared in a single skillet or wok for a more complete entree. Others add other vegetables like peppers for a spicy version, or they add some sugar to the marinade for an element of sweetness.

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    • Bistek may be made using steak.
      By: Brent Hofacker
      Bistek may be made using steak.