Flavorful fork-tender beef braised in coconut milk and a beautifully complex and aromatic chili paste. An Indonesian classic.
Obligatory ‘what-this-dish-means-to-me’ portion
When I was in high school my mom would always sneak back some rendang for me in her luggage when she went back to Indonesia.
I was born in Indonesia, but I’ve never been immersed in Indonesian culture. I barely speak the language, I don’t wear batik, I’ve never lived there etc. But I connect myself to the country through food, just like I also connect with my Chinese heritage through Chinese food. Food brings people together, it tells a story, creates connections and memories. Even if sometimes I feel a bit of guilt from the disconnect I have with my culture, I always feel better when I cook.
So I made some rendang. Yes it’d be easier to use the packet, but I have the time and the ability to so of course I’m going to make it myself. It doesn’t taste exactly like the ones back home. I don’t have a gas stove, didn’t use a mortar and pestle, and probably could have cooked it for longer. But it does remind me of home and that’s all I want.
Okay okay, sob story over
Just to give some background, rendang is a dry curry that originates from the Minangkabau region of West Sumatra. The reason why it’s such a popular dish (named #1 Best Food by CNN in 2011 and 2017!) is because the amount of spices gave the dish a long shelf life. It was a favorite on long boat journeys. Not sure if it can actually last that long out of the fridge really but it’s still damn delicious.
BTW Malaysian rendang uses kerisik (toasted shaved coconut), but Indonesian rendang doesn’t. Also I suggest using a fattier cut of beef for this. The way it’s prepared is kind of like the reverse of a stew; instead of adding liquid at the end you add liquid in the beginning and cook it til it dries out. The beef then fries in its own fat and oil making it super flavorful.
A small pivot: tamarind paste
So rendang has a bit of tamarind in it. Awhile ago when I wanted to make my own pad thai, I couldn’t find prepackaged tamarind paste so I made my own. Out of tamarind pulp (see below). Oh my god I could eat spoonfuls of it, so tart and sweet. I later found the premade concentrate and tried it, kind of overwhelming and very watery. So if you have the time and patience (and like a huge mess), straining it yourself is worth it. Otherwise just buy it or even omit it if you really have to, I won’t judge.
To make your own paste, soak a few tablespoons of the pulp in hot water and let it sit for half an hour. Then mix it into the water after it softened, and run it through a strainer. That’s it! It’s a bit of a struggle to strain but it’s worth. Trust. And a little bit makes a lot!
Btw it’s a lot of ingredients but if you have a South-East Asian grocery store around you they should all be easy to find. It’s okay to omit a few ingredients here and there it’ll still taste good!
OKAY GO GO GO GO!
Beef Rendang (Rendang Daging)
- 3 stalks lemongrass stiff outer layers removed (save them), chopped
- 6~12 spur chili roughly chopped
- 5 medium shallots roughly chopped
- 1 thumb galangal sliced
- 1 thumb ginger sliced
- 4 cloves garlic
- 1 tsp ground coriander
- 1/2 tsp ground turmeric or 1 thumb fresh
- 1/2 tsp cumin
- 1/2 tsp nutmeg powder
- 1 kg beef blade roast (chuck) or other stewing cuts with a lot of marbling, cut into large cubes
- 1 can coconut cream or coconut milk (NOT LITE)
- 1 tbsp tamarind paste*
- 8~12 kaffir lime leaves torn
- 1 stalk lemongrass, tied in a knot** plus the removed outer shells from the paste
- 2 star anise
- 2 cloves
- 2 sticks cinnamon
- 3 tbsp neutral oil
- Add all the ingredients for the spice paste in a blender or food processor (or mortar and pestle if you're feeling like a workout). The shallot and chili will give you enough moisture to be able to work with a blender but if it's not enough add a bit of coconut cream. Scrape down the sides and push towards the middle to help blend (careful!)
- Heat up a large heavy pot (I used a Dutch oven) with 2 tablespoons of oil on medium high. Add the beef and brown on all sides.
- After beef is browned removed from pot and set aside. Turn heat to medium low and add the remaining tablespoon of oil and spice paste. Stir frequently so it doesn't burn, until fragrant.
- Add the coconut cream and scrape up the brown bits on the bottom of the pot from the beef and the spices until everything is incorporated.
- Add the beef back in along with the lemongrass knots (see note, can add later), kaffir lime. Create a bouquet garnit by tying the cinnamon sticks, cloves, and star anise into a cheesecloth. Add to the pot, this makes it easier to fish them out later if you don't want a strong bite of star anise or clove.
- Mix evenly and turn to low heat. Put the lid on the pot but leave it slightly uncovered so that it can evaporate slightly. Let it simmer slowly for 3~4 hours***, stirring periodically. The stew will start to brown. Take the lemongrass out halfway (unless you want to add it in the end) through.
- After 3~4 hours, check to see if the meat is tender. Once it is tender take off the lid and turn the heat up to medium high. Stir frequently to make sure it doesn't burn. You're looking to evaporate any liquid that there is so that the meat will start to cook in its own fat & the sauce dries out. The color should be significantly darker.
- Success! This is a very time consuming recipe but the results are amazing. Make sure to make a lot so it's worth it! Enjoy :)