I just posted a shout-out on Facebook for an Open House Friday – or more accurately, an Open-Kitchen Friday. It’s a clever way of rounding up friends for my kitchen experiments. For this Friday, I was thinking of reprising my kare-kare.

My first kare-kare, which I cooked a couple of months ago, tasted okay; in fact, it was good. But its color was off-putting: a brackish orange-brown.

What went wrong? Could it be the banana blossom which discolored the moment I sliced it and then stained the rest of the ingredients in the pot? Or the bagoong that I stirred into the sauce to season it?

My friends and I were in New York over the weekend and, as planned, had dined at Purple Yam in Brooklyn. That’s when I had the compulsion to cook kare-kare. If Purple Yam didn’t do fusion – just good old traditional Filipino cooking – how come their kare-kare looked and tasted different?

Purple Yam’s peanut sauce was almost brick red, a color I didn’t associate with kare-kare. Kare-kare was always orange – no thanks to Barrio Fiesta, which seemed to have set the standard in terms of color (bright and perky) and consistency (thick and very peanut-y). Very much like we did it back home, actually.

Another thing: there’s no heavy peanut taste in Purple Yam’s kare-kare. And surprisingly, I preferred it that way. I was tasting the toasted rice with the peanuts and, I was almost sure, there was no peanut butter in it. The sauce was closer to thick broth than cream.

Chef Romy Dorotan, right, with Gene F and me.

As I ate, my mind was busy tweaking my recipe for kare-kare. 1) Use equal proportions of toasted rice and roasted peanuts, 2) Omit the banana blossom and 3) Serve bagoong on the side, as tradition called for. I’d also scratch out peanut butter from the list of ingredients and, yes, make my own achuete oil.

And I did, right after we got home. To make the achuete oil, I followed the recipe I found in Memories of Philippine Kitchens, a book written by Purple Yam owners, Amy Besa and Romy Dorotan.

There’s more to Dorotan’s recipe than just annatto seeds steeped in hot oil. There’s bay leaves, garlic and ancho chiles – all these, I figured, added a dimension of taste, not just that trademark reddish hue, to the dish.

After an hour or so, I got a small jar of achuete oil sitting in my ref, actually more than I needed for Friday’s kare-kare.

Hmm, do I see langgonisa in my next open kitchen?

Is this where Purple Yam's kare-kare gets its trademark reddish hue?

Here’s Purple Yam’s recipe for Achuete Oil:

2 cups vegetable oil; 1/2 cup achuete (annatto) seeds; 6 whole garlic cloves; 2 bay leaves; 2 ancho chiles, crushed, stemmed and seeded (I used chile flakes – a generous pinch of!)

In a medium saucepan over medium heat, warm the oil with the rest of the ingredients. When it begins to bubble, turn off heat and allow the mixture to steep for at least 1 hour or up to 2 hours. Strain the oil through a fine-mesh strainer and let cool. Store in an airtight container and refrigerate.

The achuete oil can be refrigerated for up to 2 weeks.

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