Vegetarians and vegans avert your eyes! This dish is a carnivore’s delight, and may cause squeamishness in those with different lifestyles.
Kelaguen (ke-la-gwen, also spelled as kelaquin and keliguen though I believe that the first spelling is correct) is a traditional dish of the Chamorro Peoples of the Marianna Islands. Kelaguen is a method of cooking whereby the marinade cooks the meat, much like a Ceviche. (Yup, it’s raw beef!) I highly recommend knowing your butcher if you plan on making this dish, as you’ll want the freshest beef possible.
I was introduced to Kelaguen by my ex wife and our Guamanian next door neighbor in the early nineties. I’ve made it as often as possible ever since. The combination of beef (kåtne), citrus and peppers is wonderful to say the least.
You’ve got sweetness and umami from the soy sauce, a serious tangy bite from the lemon juice, crunch from the onions, and just a hint of heat from the peppers. Kelaguen is bliss on a hot day, and comforting on a cool day.
This is an Americanized version that was “toned down” for American palates when our neighbor made it for us the first time. The more authentic recipes read like a who’s-who of spicy, and are generally made of meat that is nearly minced, but this is the version I was introduced to originally, and I’ve stayed faithful to it.
(Besides, cutting the meat in larger pieces makes it perfect for chopsticks!)
- 1.5 pounds very lean beef trimmed of all fat and cut into bite sized pieces or thin strips
- 2 cups lemon juice
- 1/2 cup soy sauce
- 1/2 cup pickled wax peppers (Use fresh or roasted red peppers for a more authentic kelaquin)
- 1 onion, halved and sliced in about 1/4-inch wide strips
- 2 Tablespoons red pepper flakes
- 10 grinds fresh black pepper.
- Add all ingredients together in bowl. Mix well, cover tightly with plastic wrap. Allow to rest at room temperature for approximately 3 hours, stirring once to ensure that everything is coated evenly. (Alternately, refrigerate overnight.)
- Serve alone or with rice.
- The sauce shown for dipping is just soy heated with some minced garlic and ginger. I’ll try to post the recipe for that in the next few days.
What I would have done differently had I thought of it at the time:
The next round of kelaguen I make will probably be a bit more traditional, just so I can see what I’ve been missing with this version. Shrimp kelaguen looks like a good place to start, as shrimp, lemon and fresh coconut just sound like a lovely combination.
If you’d like to get hold of a few more recipes, I’d suggest chamorro.com, since I have to think that the official website of the Chamorro community would feature the most authentic recipes available.
Please do remember we’re talking about meats denatured without the addition of heat. If you have any doubt whatsoever about the freshness of your meat you can still use this method, but cut the beef in strips and toss it on a grill for a few minutes before digging in. (Kebabs, anyone?)