Filipino Tapa is thinly sliced beef that is cured and dried with salt, sugar, and other spices and then cooked in oil. In other words, Tapa is fried beef jerky. And, as seen in the picture above, Tapa is usually served for breakfast along with garlic fried rice and a fried egg or two. This breakfast trinity of fried foods is known as Tapsilog: TAP is from Tapa, SI is from sinangag (fried rice), and LOG is from itlog (egg). Substitute Longanisa for the Tapa and you've got Longsilog. Filipinos. Crazy wordsmiths we are.
I could be wrong, but I imagine that early Filipinos (by "early" I mean a long long time ago, as opposed to the opposite of "Filipino Time") cured and dried their beef to preserve it, and then later fried it to wake the flavors up a bit. Or, maybe we just like to make perfectly healthy foods unhealthy by dousing them in oil. Nah, that can't be it.
Anyways, in researching Tapa, I found many many recipes consisting of simple marinades but excluded the traditional curing and drying process. Heck, even I had one of these "quick" tapa recipes sans the curing and drying Why no curing and drying? Well, because those are magical culinary processes that a home cook cannot duplicate because leaving raw beef out to dry can lead to things like bacteria, mold, and explosive diarrh...
You get the point.
But, in all actuality, anyone can cure, dry, and dehydrate beef at home with none of the ill effects I mentioned above. It's true. Just ask The Goog for Beef Jerky recipes and he will gently whisper them into your ears, or at least flash them in front of your eyeballs.
After finding a gajillion and one recipes for beef jerky, I figured I could just make up my own Tapa marinade and then dry my marinated Beef Tapa in the same fashion as an American jerky. Why the heck not!
And so that's what I did. I created my own marinade and chose a drying process that would be quick, easy, and AWESOME. What could possibly be AWESOME about drying meat? Well, I used a box fan, a couple of paper furnace filters, and some bungee cord to mummify my marinated meat. I'm serious.
Tools of the trade
I've professed my man-crush on Alton Brown and his MacGuyver-like cooking apparatuses (apparati?) before, but his rig for drying beef jerky really wet my whistle--it's effective, simple, and cheap (my box fan was $11, and I bought a four-pack of furnace filters from the hardware store for $7).
Confused? Let me explain.
First, all yous has to do is marinate some beef (with as much fat trimmed away as possible) over night in a salty, acidic solution of your choosing (I used soy, cane vinegar, and nummy nummy beer). After marinating, drain the beef and dry on some paper towels:
Then, place the beef within the grooves of the furnace filters--for me, one filter was enough for 2 pounds of meat:
Then place an empty filter on top of your meat-filled filter(s) and strap the filters on the business end of a box fan with a couple of bungee cords. Plug the fan in, set to medium speed, and let 'er rip for 8 hours:
Yes, I know, I was a bit dubious about all this at first too. But trust me, it works! Still a bit scared to leave raw meat out for 8 hours? Don't be. First of all, the salt from the soy and the acid from the vinegar will discourage any cooties from settling on your meat. Secondly, the continuous circulation of dry air around the meat will also keep any bacteria, mold, or other yuckies from spoiling the party. Before you know it, the 8 hours is over and you'll end up with perfectly dehydrated, and preserved, beef:
Quite the difference between that pic and the pictures of raw meat, no? I don't know about you, but I was pretty effing impressed after seeing how dehydrated the beef turned out. Even though no heat was involved at all, the jerky/soon to be Tapa was completely dried out, but still supple and perfectly chewy:
At this point, you will also want to pick off any remaining fat. The jerky will keep for a few months, but if there's any fat on it, it will get funky on you.
As is, this was the best beef jerky I've ever had. I'm not just saying that. The dehydrated beef had a nice balance of salty, sweet, tangy and spicy. It was AWESOME! Take some jerky with you to work, on a picnic, a quick jaunt to the center of the earth, what have you.
But, this isn't just jerky. Heat some oil up in a heavy-bottomed pan and fry the jerky for a few minutes, and then drain on some paper towels:
And now, ladies and gentlemen, you have Tapa. But perhaps I'm oversimplifying things a bit. For the record, you can't just go to the store and buy pre-packaged beef jerky, then bring it home and fry it. That's just fried beef jerky and not Tapa. The thing that makes Tapa, Tapa is the marinade and the texture. If you were to fry store-bought beef jerky, you'd probably have to chew on that mofo for a good long while.
However, the method I described here is very conducive to the proper Tapa texture--you should still be able to eat it with a fork and spoon and be able to chew it normally. Also, I realize that traditional slices of Tapa are wide and flat as opposed to the long and narrow strips I presented here. But the meat is cut into thin strips so that they can easily fit into the grooves of the furnace filters.
I also realize that many of you will not put in the time and effort to recreate this crazy drying rig. But I assure you, the results are danged tasty. For those of you that are still apprehensive, I found a beef jerky recipe in my handy-dandy copy of Michael Ruhlman's Charcuterie in which he places his marinated beef on a rack on a baking sheet, then puts it in an oven on its lowest possible setting for 16-20 hours. So you can try that too, or not.
The Beef Tapa recipe I provide below is all my own, but the drying process is borrowed from this Alton Brown recipe.
2 lbs. flank steak, fat trimmed and removed
1/2 bottle of beer (San Miguel if you like)
2/3 cup soy sauce
1/2 cup filipino cane vinegar
1/2 cup brown sugar
2 teaspoons ground black pepper
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
6 garlic cloves, smashed
Remove any excess fat from flank steak and slice, with the grain, into 1/4-inch wide strips (about the width of your pinky finger). Place the beef strips into a large, gallon-sized zip top bag.
In a large bowl, combine the rest of the ingredients and stir until sugar is dissolved. Pour marinade into plastic bag with beef. Marinate beef overnight in the refrigerator.
After marinating, let beef drain in a colander for 5 minutes. Then place the beef on a layer of paper towels and pat dry.
Place the strips of beef into the grooves of a paper furnace filter (DO NOT use fiberglass filters!!! Fiberglass is bad for you and will make your insides bleed, literally), then place an empty filter on top. Using two bungee cords, strap the filters onto the front of a box fan. Stand the fan upright, plug in, and set to medium. Allow fan to run for 8 hours.
After 8 hours, check the meat. The meat should be completely dehydrated. Enjoy as is for beef jerky, or fry in a small amount of oil for Tapa. Serve with garlic fried rice, fried eggs, and a side of sliced tomatoes for a Tapsilog breakfast: