Beef Rendang

After musing on the delights of the rijsttafel the other day, I thought this might be a good time for an Indonesian recipe. Google Indonesian food and by far the most common dish is nasi goreng. Well I did that on the old site - seven years ago, I discover - and, to be frank, it's just fried rice. Today's dish, while Malaysian in origin, did feature in our Amsterdam feast, and it's a curry I've made on many occasions. This is based on a recipe from Ping Coombes who won Masterchef some years ago, so I think it's pretty authentic. In the ingredients list, an asterisk means that I comment on it in the preamble.

A few preliminary comments, starting with the ingredients. Firstly, the spice paste. Rendang isn't a particularly hot dish, so you may be surprised by the reference to 15 chillies. But note that the recipe specifies Kashmiri chillies. These are super mild, and are used mainly for colour as opposed to heat. They're not that hard to find these days, and I'm not going to offer an alternative. Out east shallot style onions are far more common than here. You could just cut up one decent size ordinary onion. Whisper it, but in a spice paste I'm not sure I can detect the difference between ginger and galangal. The recipe which I have calls for 30g of each. I just use 50g of ginger. Now, lemongrass. A lovely ingredient, but the stuff we get in this country is pretty tough, and, in my experience doesn't really have the tender base which the recipe calls for. I know it's going to be blitzed, but I think you'll probably get unpleasant stringy bits. You could substitute 3 tsp of lemongrass paste.

Moving on to the curry itself, it's a long slow cook, so use your choice of stewing beef. Ping suggests shin or skirt. For the lemongrass here, the real stuff is fine, as it stays whole and you'll discard it at the end, but do remember to bash it to release the flavour. Even if you can find fresh Kaffir lime leaves, I don't think they are essential; the tamarind paste, on the other hand, is vital. Again, easy enough to find in the World Foods aisle of Waitrose and other good supermarkets - probably next to the lemongrass paste. Finally, I don't have chicken stock powder in my larder, so just crumble a stock cube.

A final word about the cooking. The average British cook will panic when a sauce starts to split. Don't worry, it's meant to do that. Your net result will be quite dry, so bear that in mind when deciding what to serve with it.


For the spice paste

15 dried Kashmiri chillies*; 6 - 8 small round shallots,* or 1 good sized onion, peeled and roughly chopped; 50g fresh root ginger*, peeled and roughly chopped; 3 lemongrass stalks (tender base only)*, roughly chopped, or 3 tsp lemongrass paste.

For the rendang

5 tbsp vegetable oil, plus extra to loosen the spice paste; 1 kg stewing beef* cut into cubes of about 4cm; 1 lemongrass stalk, halved widthways and bashed; 400ml coconut milk; 2 tbsp tamarind paste*; 250ml water; 60g unsweetened desiccated coconut; 2 fresh Kaffir lime leaves, torn (optional); 1½ tbsp chicken stock powder*, or 1 chicken stock cube crumbled up; 1 tsp caster sugar; 1 or 2 good pinches of salt.


Start by rehydrating the dried chillies in boiling water for five minutes. Take the pan off the heat but leave the chillies in for a further 15 minutes until well softened. Drain and leave until they are cool enough to handle. Split them lengthways, then remove and discard the seeds. Cut the chillies into chunks.

Then make the spice paste. Chuck all the paste ingredients into a blender, and zap until smooth. You may need to add a little oil (not water) to loosen it.

The recipe which I have suggests a wok might do. I totally disagree. Later on you have to be careful not to let the rendang stick, so use a nice heavy pan. Heat the oil and cook the spice paste over a medium heat for about five minutes. Add the beef and the bashed lemongrass. Mix well and cook for a few minutes, just to get the beef to lose its pink pallor. Then add the coconut milk, water and tamarind paste. It's not good to boil coconut milk, but bring the mixture up to a gentle bubble then simmer uncovered for about an hour and a half, stirring from time to time.

While that's bubbling, toast the coconut in a dry pan on a medium heat until golden brown. Keep an eye on it and toss from time to time. It will take about 5 minutes, but use your eyes. My experience is that it can go from peely-wally to burnt in the blink of an eye. Remove from the pan and set aside to cool, then blitz in a small food processor. You want an end product which is coarsely ground, not dust.

After the one and a half hour simmer add the coconut to your beef together with the lime leaves, if using, the stock powder/cube and some salt. Mix well and carry on cooking for about another 15  - 20 minutes. You will notice the sauce starting to split, with the oil separating. Stir from time to time. This dish is done when the beef is tender and the sauce is thick. Discard the bashed lemongrass before dishing up.

A labour of love, but worth it. Serve with rice, obviously. I prefer plain to jasmine, as you already have a lot of coconut in your rendang. In Malaysia you'll often get just tomato and cucumber on the side, but do what you fancy. After all this effort you've earned it.

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