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Chicken rendang & beef rendang
Much like curry, beef rendang begins with the frying of a rempah, to which coconut cream and water is added. However, here’s where it deviates. Beef rendang is much drier, as it is cooked until the gravy thickens and begins to ooze oil. The oil essentially fries and caramelizes the gravy, coating each chunk of meat with an incredible amount of complex flavours. While curries tend to be smooth, the grated coconut in rendang that coats the meat provides the slightest chew.
Rendang is a full-day affair. The huge pot of rendang would bubble over the stove for hours, simultaneously tenderizing the meat while reducing the gravy. Some traditional recipes online call for at least 7 hours of braising. Its time-consuming nature caused me to relegate it to something best reserved for chefs, rather than the home cook.
Our friend Tony Tan, the revered teacher of Southeast Asian cooking in Melbourne, invited us for dinner one day. When we arrived, he mentioned that we were going to be having beef rendang for dinner. I was surprised at how calm and collected he was, given his choice of dish. I took a peek at his pot. It looked very much like a braise and I wondered why he appeared so serene.
Tony proceeded to test how tender the beef was with a fork, his cut of choice being the oyster blade. Happy with the texture, he lifted the beef out – here’s the genius – proceeded reducing the sauce over high heat. Before long, the sauce had lost its moisture and began to look curdled, the oil rising to the top. Continuing to cook the gravy, Tony fried what could now be described as a paste in its own oil. His kitchen filled with those familiar, caramelized notes of coconut and spices and I stood there amazed at how simple and quick it all was!
A quick coat of the beef with the paste and we were ready to eat. And what a joy it was over rice. Ugly, but very very delicious indeed.
Shortcut Beef Rendang
Adapted from Tony Tan’s recipe on Gourmet Traveller
13 red chillies or 6 chilli padis
5 garlic cloves
850g beef brisket or oyster blade, cut into 5cm cubes
70g desiccated coconut, toasted till deep brown
270g coconut cream
2 teaspoon each turmeric, coriander, cumin and cinnamon powder
1 star anise
3 kaffir lime leaves
Blend the red chillies, onion and garlic cloves to a coarse paste. Blend the lemongrass, ginger and galangal to a fine paste. Heat the oil in a pot and add both two pastes. Fry for 5 minutes on medium heat. Add the beef and coconut, and toss to coat. Add the rest of the ingredients and 1L water. Bring to a boil before simmering on low heat for 3 hours, or until the beef is fork tender.
Remove the beef from the pot and reduce the braising liquid until paste-like and oil begins to ooze out from it. Return the beef to the pot and toss through. Serve immediately over steamed rice.
Beef rendang (if you have time to spare)
For the spices:
1 cinnamon stick
2 star anise
8g black peppercorns
10g cumin seeds
25g coriander seeds
12g fennel seeds
8 green cardamom
Toast spices in a dry pan and grind to a fine powder.
For the rempah:
150g peeled red onions
100g peeled galangal
30g peeled ginger
30g peeled fresh turmeric root
40g dried red chillies
40g peeled garlic
Grind aromatics to form a rempah.
For the rendang:
250g grated coconut
1kg any stewing cut of beef (I particularly like oyster blade or beef cheek)
350g coconut milk
650g coconut cream
3 stalks lemongrass, crushed
45g gula melaka
2 teaspoons salt
Toast the grated coconut in a dry pan until golden brown. Grind with a pestle and mortar or in a blender until an oily paste forms. Fry rempah in oil before adding the kerisik, beef, coconut milk and cream, and lemongrass. Cook 3-4 hours or until the beef becomes tender and the rendang gravy thickens to your desired consistency. If using a pressure cooker, cook beef until tender, then remove the beef from the gravy. Heat the gravy on medium high heat and reduce until the gravy is thick. Return the beef to the gravy and season with sugar and salt.
70g dried chillies, deseeded and soaked in hot water for half an hour
25g turmeric root
100g red onion
140g grated coconut
3 lemongrass, bruised
1 star anise
400ml coconut milk
1½ tsp salt
1 whole chicken, cut into pieces
5 kaffir lime leaves
40-45g gula melaka, chopped
Squeeze out excess liquid from the chillies and blend them with ginger, turmeric, galangal, red onion and garlic to a paste. Fry the coconut on low heat until dry and brown. Blend or pound the coconut until it turns into an oily paste. Place the oil, lemongrass stalks and whole spices in a wok and heat over medium heat. When the oil is hot, add the rempah and fry until the colour darkens. Add the coconut milk gradually. Turn the heat to low and cook until the mixture begins to bubble and exude oil. Add salt, chicken pieces, water and kaffir lime leaves. Mix well and cook covered for 10 min. Add the gula melaka and kerisik. Continue to cook the chicken for another 10 minutes, uncovered, stirring constantly to reduce the gravy and melt the sugar. Serve hot with rice. Keeps well too!