Okay, I promised you some recipes from our travels to Penang and Singapore. I’ve already brought you Hainanese Chicken Rice, and now I give you Beef (Daging) Rendang – a dish you see a lot in Malaysia; especially as one of the components of nasi lemak, that fabulous mixed rice dish.
According to everything I’ve read on the subject, Beef Rendang originated in Western Sumatra (Indonesia) and was brought to Malaysia and Singapore by the Minangkabau settlers from Indonesia.
These days it’s one of the most popular dishes in Malaysia. The arguments of its heritage, however, are reminiscent of the Australian/ New Zealand argument about the real origins of pavlova. And no, I’m not entering into that debate.
One time I wrote about including it in a Malaysian themed dinner I was cooking and someone who obviously knows about these things commented with something like, ‘are you dreaming? It’s Indonesian, you idiot!’
Another time I wrote about including it in an Indonesian themed dinner I was cooking and someone who obviously knows about these things commented with something like, ‘are you dreaming? It’s Malaysian, you idiot!’
Translated, Rendang comes from the Indonesian word Merandang which means to slow cook a dish of meat (usually beef) in coconut and aromatic spices until the liquid is all but evaporated. For this reason, rendang is not strictly a curry. It is, however, associated with patience, persistence and wisdom by the Minangkabau people as all three of these traits are required to cook it properly.
John Torode and Gregg Wallace of British Masterchef caused an international scandal a year or so ago when they criticised a Malaysian contestant for not having crispy chicken in her rendang – something that’s absolutely impossible in a dish that is cooked as slowly as this one is.
It starts as a wet gravy, or gulai. Over the next couple of hours, the gravy reduces to what is known as a kalio. The meat is cooked still further until it absorbs most of the gravy, although in Malaysia it’s eaten drier than what it is in Singapore and Indonesia.
Towards the end of the cooking, coconut is roasted and then pounded until the oils are released and it becomes a paste called kerisik. It’s this that gives the dish its rich, dark colour. In Malaysia, you can buy the paste, but I do it the old fashioned way.
The recipe I use is from Adam Liaw’s Two Asian Kitchens.
What you need
…for the base paste:
- 8 shallots
- 6 small red chillies
- 6 garlic cloves
- 3cm piece each of galangal, turmeric, ginger – peeled and thickly sliced
- 2 teasp sea salt
Whack the lot into a mini blender (I used the Nutri-bullet) or a mortar and pestle and grind it into a smooth paste.
…for the rest:
- 1kg braising steak. I used gravy beef. Chop it into cubes.
- 1 tbsp neutral oil – I use coconut oil
- 3 stalks lemongrass (the white part) bruised up a bit with the back of a knife or a pestle
- 1 turmeric leaf, shredded. If you can’t get this, substitute with 3 kaffir lime leaves, shredded
- 2 tsp sugar
- 400ml coconut cream
- 100 g grated fresh coconut (or 130g shredded coconut)
What you do with it…
- Heat the oil in a large pan and fry the paste for about 5mins or so. It will get a little darker and will smell amazing.
- Add the beef, leaf, lemongrass and sugar and mix it about until coated.
- Add the coconut cream, about 250ml water, and bring to a low simmer.
- Cover and cook for 30mins, then uncover and cook for a further 90 mins – 2 hours. You’ll see the coconut cream split a bit in this time- that’s ok. The gravy should have reduced a lot by this stage.
- In the meantime, dry fry the coconut in a frying pan until golden. Watch this as it can turn quickly. Pop it into a mortar and grind to a sticky paste. This is worth doing by hand.
- When the meat has been cooking for 90mins – 2 hours, and most of the liquid has evaporated, add the coconut paste and cook over low heat for another 30-40 mins. Stir it often to make sure it doesn’t burn. By the end of this process, the meat is essentially frying in the separated coconut oil.
Oh, and the finished product? My photo is crap. Brown against white…yes, quite literally. So I took a photo of the photo in the cookbook. It, at least, has been styled. By the time that you reduce the gravy, that’s exactly what it looks like.