Beef Rendang: A Flavour Explosion

I love Malaysian food. It is like every flavour in every mouthful has been condensed in a black hole and then it explodes back out in your mouth.

Malaysian food is a perfected experiment with extreme flavour and so it suits the LAB kitchen perfectly. I’m pretty sure that the next occupants of this house will think and a family from somewhere in south-east Asia lived here, not a skinny white girl. The smell of turmeric, ginger, star anise, cinnamon, mustard, cumin (and more cumin) will emanate from these walls for years to come. This is why I buy my spices by the pound from Indian and Asian stores.

For me, the pinnacle of mouthful-flavour-explosions is beef rendang, with nasi lemak and accompanying tasty morsels. This isn’t perfectly authentic, but like all families, they have their own versions of traditional recipes and this will be my family version.

The Food Safari book this is adapted from is wonderful, for those interested in flavour and experimenting with new dishes I would highly recommend it.

Beef Rendang
serves 6-8, ½ an hour of preparation plus 2-3 hours cooking with occasional stirring
adapted from Food Safari and a magazine I picked up in Malaysia

1 kg of diced beef
800 mls of coconut milk, not low fat versions, find the highest fat coconut milk on the shelf
1 medium red onion, roughly chopped
6 cloves of garlic, peeled
Galangal, a thumb size piece, roughly chopped (omit if you can’t find it and add a little more ginger)
Ginger, a thumb size piece, roughly chopped
1 stalk of lemon grass, the lower white section sliced
6 dried chillies, soaked in hot water
6 kaffir lime leaves, central vein removed and finely sliced
4 tbs Malaysian (not Keen’s) curry powder
3 tbs kecap manis sweet soy sauce
Vegetable oil

Blend the onion, garlic, galangal, ginger, lemongrass and chilli in a food processor until a smooth paste. Add some of the chilli soaking water as necessary to get a paste consistency.

Heat some oil (a few tablespoons) in a large, deep sided pot. The deep sides are important if you don’t want yellow flecks of rendang all over your kitchen. Fry the paste plus the kaffir lime leaves until fragrant (a few minutes).

Add the meat, coconut milk and curry powder, mix well.

Simmer over a low heat with the lid off for around two hours stirring occasionally. If it dries out too quickly either simmer with the lid on for a while, or add a little water. At the end of two hours the sauce should be much reduced, thicker and darker.

Stir in the kecap manis, this helps add saltiness and a sweetness for the final flavour.

Serve a small portion (it is very rich) with nasi lemak, and traditional accompaniments such as ikan bilis (dried anchovies), sambal (a chilli anchovy paste), peanuts, cucumber and pickled vegetables.

Tomorrow I’ll post a recipe for nasi lemak, creamy, coconutty rice.

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