Saturday, January 28, 2012

Beef Rendang for beginners

Everyone has a list of things to do; I have a list of things to cook.  For a long time, beef rendang was on that list.  Rendang is actually a classic Indonesian dish, but as my last post indicates, nonyas and babas learnt quite a lot from Indonesia - and it goes well beyond using sarongs.  At last I got started - and I have not stopped since.

I've played around with a few rendang recipes - including by Wendy Hutton (Singapore Food), James Oseland (Cradle of Flavour) and of course one by the doyen of nonya cooking, Mrs Lee Chin Koon (of Mrs Lee's Recipes fame).  The basic ingredients are of course the same, but there are differences in the mixture of spices - my own combination is given below.  But what was interesting is the new technique which I learnt for the first time whilst making rendang

It is quite common practice for some coconut sauce based dishes, to fry the rempah (or spice mix), and then add thick coconut milk.  The coconut milk is then cooked until it begins to "crack", in other words the oil begins to separate out of the milk.  The food is then cooked in the rempah and coconut milk, for a nice smooth gravy.  But for rendang, the food is cooked first in the coconut milk and only at the end, does the residual coconut milk "crack" and the beef "fries" in the oily gravy, and that's how you get that beautiful, rich reddish-brown colour of the rendang gravy.  I find it so interesting to see how the dish transforms along the way, from what looks like an ordinary beef curry in a rather pale bath of soup, to these chunks of meat covered in a very thick, smooth, oh so yummy gravy.

It is not for nothing that beef rendang can be found in all good nonya restaurants.  The tender beef, well flavoured with all these lovely spices goes down a treat with white rice and vegetables. 

So here's the recipe for the rendang:


1 kg shin beef (or other stewing beef)
1 medium size onion (or 5-6 shallots)
500 ml coconut milk (about 250ml packet of thick coconut milk/cream, dilute with 250ml water)
1 stick cinnamon (approx 5 cm or so)
2-3 cloves (optional)
30-40g kerisik (this is essentially grated coconut which has been dry-fried/toasted- gorgeous if you are prepared to put in this extra work, but I buy mine in a packet)
1 tablespoon sugar
pinch of salt

For the rempah (all ingredients should be pounded/processed together)

4 slices galangal (also called lengkwas)
4 slices ginger
3-4 cloves garlic
14-18 dried red chillies, soaked
1 tbsp tumeric powder
2 stalks of lemongrass (white portion only, chopped fine) - note: I've swapped this with lime leaves before, when I couldn't get hold of any lemongrass

Garnishing: lime leaves, cut into thin strips

Cooking method:
1.  Fry the rempah in a little bit of oil, together with the onion, cinnamon and cloves.  Add in the kerisik and fry till fragrant.
2.  Add the meat, and cook till the meat has changed colour.  Add in the coconut milk, sugar and salt.  Bring to the boil, then simmer till the meat is tender (depending on the meat - I do it for about two hours).  Add a little more water if need be.
3.  When meat is nice and tender, reduce the liquid and cook on low heat until the coconut oil "cracks" as described above.  

Serve garnished with the lime leaves. 

Unsurprisingly, this dish is nicer the next day.

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