Everything about this dish is good: the aroma during cooking, overall taste, ease of preparation and authenticity to its country of origin, in this case, Indonesia.
I first heard about this food, years ago, from cook, author and guest James Oseland on “The Splendid Table,” so I thought I’d try it. I’ve made it dozens of times, since.
James Oseland also wrote a comprehensive cookbook about the food of Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore, called “Cradle of Flavor.” If you want to learn to cook some striking, tropical foods, I recommend it.
Known as a reverse curry, beef rendang starts out in a coconut/spice bath and slowly cooks down into a dry, highly-fragrant and tender dish. My only warning with making this dish is not to underestimate how long it takes to slowly braise: two to four hours in most cases. It is well worth the wait!
One more thing before we get started: while this is delicious right out of the pan the day it is cooked. It is even better the next day after being refrigerated and gently re-heated.
What you’ll need to make it: (except for my comments, this is the recipe from Oseland, verbatim)
- 5 whole cloves.
- 1 whole nutmeg, slightly crushed in a mortar and pestle.
- 6-8 red Holland chiles, or 3-4 Thai chiles, stemmed and roughly chopped.
- 6 small shallots, roughly chopped.
- 5 candlenuts or macadamia nuts—I’ve bought them before, but candlenuts appear to be unavailable in the US now. If you do find them, do NOT eat them raw. You’ll get an upset stomach.
- 3 cloves garlic, peeled.
- 1 (2″) piece fresh or frozen turmeric, peeled and roughly chopped, or 1 1⁄2 tsp. ground turmeric.
- 1 (2″) piece ginger, peeled and thinly sliced.
- 1 (2″) piece galangal, peeled and thinly sliced—you may have a tough time finding this, though it’s at most Asian grocery stores.
- 2 lb. boneless beef chuck, cut into 2″ pieces—use the most marbled, high-quality you can find.
- 7 fresh or frozen Kaffir lime leaves, plus 4 very thinly sliced, for garnish.
- 3 stalks lemongrass, trimmed, smashed with a mallet, and tied into knots.
- 2 sticks cinnamon.
- 2 1⁄2 cups unsweetened coconut milk.
- Kosher salt, to taste.
How to make it: (as Oseland wrote it)
- To make the flavoring paste, place the nutmeg and cloves in a small food processor and pulse until ground to a dusty powder, about 2 minutes.
- Add the shallots, garlic, chiles, turmeric, ginger, galangal (if using), and candlenuts to the ground spices. Pulse until you have a chunky-smooth paste the consistency of cooked oatmeal.
- In a 12-inch (30-centimeter) skillet (nonstick works best)—I use cast iron—mix the beef and the flavoring paste until well combined. Add the coconut milk, lemongrass, cinnamon, whole lime leaves, daun salam leaves (if using), and salt. Stir well to combine and bring to a gentle boil over medium heat. Immediately reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer uncovered at a slow; steady bubble, stirring every 10 to 20 minutes with a spatula to prevent the meat and coconut milk from sticking and scorching. You’ll probably need to adjust the heat periodically to maintain an even simmer.
- The meat, coconut milk, and flavoring paste will now go on a fascinating journey. At first, the broth will be thin and gorgeously bright orange. As it cooks, the coconut milk will reduce, its fats (as well as the fat the meat renders) separating from the solids. It will become progressively thicker and darker, eventually turning brown. Continue to simmer gently until the liquid has reduced by about 95 percent, stirring every 15 minutes or so to prevent sticking. Only the meat, oils and a bit of very thick sauce will remain in the pot. This will take anywhere from 2 to 3 hours, depending on the skillet that you use, how hot the fire is, and the richness of the coconut milk. Test the meat; it should be tender enough to poke easily with a fork. Taste some of the liquid for salt, and add a pinch more if needed.
- When all the liquid has evaporated, reduce the heat to low (the meat and the remaining sauce are prone to burning) and allow the beef to brown slowly in the rendered fat. (The fat may be foamy at this point, but will settle down when the cooking stops.) Stir every 5 minutes or so to prevent sticking and scorching, being careful not to break the beef apart. Continue sautéing the beef until it’s the color of roasted coffee beans, 5 to 10 minutes longer. The surface of the beef should be barely moist and have an appetizing oily sheen. (If there is too much oil in the pan for your liking, skim some of it off with a spoon and set aside or later use; it’s wonderful for sautéing potatoes.)
- Remove and discard the cinnamon, lemongrass, lime leaves, and daun salam leaves (if used), and then transfer the beef to a serving dish. (Alternatively, serve this dish with all the aromatics, for a more rustic presentation.) Garnish with the shredded lime leaves, if using. Allow the beef to rest for at least 30 minutes before serving. Slightly warm room temperature will best show off its intensely aromatic flavors. This dish will taste even better the next day.