Friday, February 3, 2012
Beef Rendang, as You Like It
When we first moved to Australia, I used to cook spicy Malaysian dishes for dinner on a regular basis. Back then, there were only a handful of good restaurants here that served authentic Malaysian/Singaporean food and it was usually by word of mouth that one would know of such places. I missed the food back home and would often try out various recipes in order to satiate my cravings.
One of the "early" dishes that I learnt to cook was rendang. When I was younger and lived with my parents, I remember how the dinner table would never complete without at least one spicy or chilli-based dish. I guess all of us in the family were "fussy eaters", and so we were fortunate that my mum's a good cook and was able to meet all our "dietary" requirements. I just had a sudden flashback of how she used to cook my favourite "Chicken Chop with crinkle-cut potato chips" as well as "Spaghetti Bolognese" for my lunch before fetching me to school in the afternoon. What a treat it was for me at the time!
Before I digress further, I was on the topic of spicy food and one of mum's dishes that I enjoyed was beef rendang (amongst many other things). If you're not already familiar with the dish, it is a spicy meat dish that can be made with beef, chicken or mutton, and is usually simmered in coconut milk, lemongrass, onions, shallots, chillies and spices. There are many versions of the dish, depending on which part of Malaysia or Indonesia it originates from. I suppose the one I prepared here is a basic version, although it's versatile enough that you can choose to add or omit certain spices or ingredients.
I have come across poorly made rendang that looked like curry, which is one of the reasons why I seldom order it when we eat out. Rendang should have a thick and rich gravy, which is obtained after slowly simmering until most of the liquid has evaporated to the point that it is almost dry. In this recipe, I used cumin and fennel, but you can omit them for a "purer" taste of lemongrass and kaffir lime leaves. I love the fragrance from kaffir lime leaves, as they really lift the flavours in the dish. Galangal is optional too, but it does add a touch of authenticity to the overall taste of the dish. The cut of beef used is also important. I usually use gravy beef (boned shin) or chuck steak and cook it for at least 2 hours until tender.
1 kg (2 pounds) gravy beef or chuck steak, diced into 2 inch cubes
800ml (3 cups) coconut milk
1-2 cups water
2 stalks lemongrass, halved and bruised
1 tbsp finely shredded kaffir lime leaves
1/2 cup kerisik (dessicated coconut dry-roasted in a pan until golden brown)
Salt to taste
2 tbsp brown sugar
1 1/2 tbsp kecap manis (optional)
2 large brown onions
5 cloves garlic
1 inch galangal (optional)
2 tsp ground cumin
2 tsp ground fennel
4-5 tbsp chilli paste (dried chillies finely blended with a little water)
Heat up 2 tbsp oil in a large wok or pan and fry blended ingredients for 3-5 minutes until fragrant. Add meat and fry until browned. Add lemongrass, coconut milk and enough water to just cover the meat. Simmer on low-medium heat, uncovered, for about 2 hours until almost dry. Add kerisik, kaffir lime leaves, salt, sugar and kecap manis (if used). Simmer until beef is tender and gravy is thick and dry. Serve hot with steamed rice. Tastes even better the next day. Suitable for freezing too!