Well, I said I was going to make beef rendang and I did! This dish originated in Indonesia but spread to Malaysia and is considered a traditional dish in both countries – you can find it at the Malaysian restaurants in London. It’s like a very dry curry – there’s hardly any gravy to speak of but still it’s moist. The most common rendang in Malaysia is made with beef, though chicken versions are also popular. It’s utterly delicious with the richness of coconut milk and the complex layers of aromatics that have had time to blend over a cooking time of about 3 hours. Yes, you heard me right – 3 hours. Weekday food, this is not. At first when I’d finally got everything in the pan ready for its long simmer time, I thought the combination of ingredients seemed off: the galangal was coming through too strongly and the colour was just yellow. Oh, time was a very important ingredient in this recipe! After the alloted time, the mixture was thick, dark and very very rich. Rendang.

Beef Rendang and Rice

Thank goodness I now have a mini chopper – the amount of pounding with a mortar and pestle needed to produce the amount of paste required for the recipe would have had us thrown out from our flat, I reckon. While a chopper isn’t ideal (the pounding brings out the most from the ingredients), it’s good enough for me. Likewise, normally, toasted coconut is pounded to make a paste (at which point it is kerisek) but the rendang results were fine with just the toasted coconut. Call this a pounding-free rendang!

I actually didn’t have any kaffir lime leaves that day and so left them out. The rendang was still fine without it but I’ll add them next time! Oh, and one more thing, I read that the oil that’s skimmed off is delicious on rice and so we tried it a little… and oh my goodness, it’s amazingly good. However, don’t overdo it – you’ll regret it when you see the oil congeal the next day.

Beef Rendang and Rice

Beef Rendang

Beef Rendang
serves 6 as part of a meal with rice and a vegetable dish.

1 kg beef for stewing, cut in approximately 1.5″ cubes
3 tbsps peanut oil (or sunflower oil)
1.5 inch long cinnamon stick
4 cloves
4 cardamom pods
4 star anise
1 400mL tin coconut milk
1/2 tin of water
2 tsps tamarind pulp, soaked in about 1/2 cup warm water
1 tbsp sugar
7 kaffir lime leaves, very thinly sliced
7 tbsps dessicated coconut (not sweetened)
salt to taste

for the spice paste
6 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped roughly
6 small shallots (I used the Asian purple ones), peeled and chopped roughly
2 stalks lemongrass, tough layers removed and softer inner layers chopped roughly
1.5 inch piece of ginger, peeled and chopped roughly
1.5 inch piece of galangal, cleaned and chopped roughly
6 large dried chilies, soaked in warm water, seeded, and chopped roughly
0.5 tsp turmeric powder
1 tsp salt

First toast the dessicated coconut to make kerisek. In a dry frying pan, add the dessicated coconut and then gently heat it over medium heat. Stir the coconut often until it is a uniform golden brown. Set the toasted coconut aside.

Now make the spice paste. Toss all the prepared spice paste ingredients into a blender or food processor and blend until a paste is formed. Add a little water at a time if it’s not blending properly. It will never be perfectly smooth but you don’t want any large pieces. I used the mini chopper part of my hand blender, processing the paste in two batches.

In a large deep saute pan or a large wok or a large heavy casserole, heat the oil over medium heat and fry the spice paste. You’ll find the paste will “soak up” all the oil during frying and when it’s done frying and fully aromatic, the oil will be released again. Add the cinnamon, cloves, cardamom pods, and star anise and stir thoroughly. Add the beef and stir again – the beef should just be coated with the paste, not left to brown. Pour in the coconut milk and the tamarind water and enough of the plain water to cover the meat – you might need to add more. Add the sliced kaffir lime leaves too. Stir thoroughly and bring the liquid to a boil.

When the mixture is bubbling, turn down the heat to a simmer. Sprinkle over the sugar and toasted coconut, stir that through and leave the coconutty mixture to simmer slowly (use a diffuser if you need to) uncovered, stirring occasionally. After about 2 hours, the water should have all evaporated, leaving the beef in a thick paste and with lots of oil floating on top. Now you’ll have to stir much more often, allowing the beef mixture to fry in the oil. The rendang will darken and will be done when it’s a dark brown (as in the photo), which will occur in about 20-30 minutes. Turn the heat to the lowest temperature and proceed to spoon out the oil that’s been floating on top. Try to remove as much as possible; some will still be left but that will add to the overall flavour. Salt the rendang to taste, turn off the heat, and serve.