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Indonesian-Style Beef Rendang

by Anne Assassi | 1 year ago

Beef rendang is one of my all-time favorite dishes. I knew that it would be when I saw it featured many years ago on an early episode of Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations.

If my memory serves me right, Bourdain was served up the insanely delicious dish in an Indonesian or Malaysian food court with a few other plates to sample. But he kept going back to the rendang, oohing and ahhing over its perfectly balanced flavors: sweet, sour, salty, bitter, and umami.

The first time I cooked it up, the rendang tasted exactly as I had imagined. It took several hours of labor in the kitchen and lots of ingredient sourcing from local Asian markets, but those rich exotic flavors made it all worth it, and I essentially became a rendang addict.

Fast forward many years later with several variations of the recipe under my belt, I coincidentally had beef rendang on my shopping list when its sister version, chicken rendang, made news headlines. A bad call by a judge on MasterChef UK sent a contestant home for chicken rendang that wasn’t “crispy” enough.

I clicked on the headline immediately. Was there something I was missing in my years of enjoying this recipe? Is chicken or even beef rendang supposed to be crispy?

Second guessing myself, I read through that article and many others to confirm that I’ve been cooking it right all along: long and slow, until the meat is fork-tender, and the consistency forms a dry and almost candy-like consistency. Lesson learned: I definitely need to question myself less in the kitchen!

Rendang is such a staple to so many that it makes sense that people are getting riled up about it, and I’m totally digging the controversy! Why? When a dish is getting this much attention, you know it’s good, and I’m sure so many more people have now been introduced to its tasteful glory.

If you like Southeast Asian flavors and curries and you haven’t yet tried rendang, it may very well become one of your favorite dishes too. So here’s a recipe that I hope either introduces you to the dish, or if you’ve made it before, is an improvement on the last time you made it.

Indonesian-Style Beef Rendang

Serves 6-8
Active Time: 1 Hour
Total Time: 4 Hours

3 large shallots, peeled, roughly chopped
3 lemongrass stalks, white parts only, sliced thin, smashed
1 ½ tbsp ginger, peeled, roughly chopped
1 ½ tbsp galangal, peeled, roughly chopped
12 dried birdseye chilies, soaked in hot water until soft, seeded
6 garlic cloves, peeled
4 candlenuts or macadamia nuts
5 tbsp canola oil, divided
1 cinnamon stick
6 whole cloves
3 star anise
¼ tsp black peppercorns
4 green cardamom pods
1 tbsp ground coriander
1 tbsp ground turmeric
1 tbsp. ground cumin
2 lb. boneless beef chuck or top sirloin, cut into 1 ½ x ½- inch pieces
1 13.5-oz. can unsweetened coconut milk
3 tbsp tamarind concentrate
3 Indonesian bay leaves (optional)
4 kaffir lime leaves, thinly sliced
2 ½ tsp Kosher salt
1 tbsp palm sugar or light brown sugar
1/2 cup fresh coconut meat, excess water squeezed out with a paper towel, finely chopped

To Serve
Banana leaves (optional)
Steamed rice
1 small bunch cilantro leaves
Lime wedges

Step-by-Step Directions

Add shallots, lemongrass, ginger galangal, chilies, garlic, candlenuts, and 1/3 cup water to a food processor.

Pulse for 3-4 minutes until the mixture forms into a thick chili-shallot paste.

In a large wok or Dutch oven, heat 2 tbsp canola oil over low heat. Stir in the cinnamon stick, cloves, star anise, peppercorns, and cardamom.

Stir the spices around until fragrant, about 1 minute. Stir in the coriander, turmeric, and cumin, and toast until fragrant, about 30 seconds.

Add an additional 3 tbsp of canola oil to the wok and heat over medium-low heat. Stir in chili-shallot paste and cook, stirring, until the paste turns a few shades darker, about 8-10 minutes.

Raise the heat to medium and stir in the beef until browned, about 2 minutes.

Add the coconut milk, tamarind concentrate, sugar, bay leaves, and kaffir lime leaves.

Bring to a boil, and continue to stir, for 5 minutes, until the sauce has thickened slightly.

Stir in the salt and sugar and cook over low heat, stirring occasionally until the meat is nearly tender, about 2.5 hours.

Meanwhile, heat a small skillet over low heat. Add coconut and toast until golden, 8-10 minutes. Add the toasted coconut to the wok and stir to incorporate.

Continue to cook over medium-low heat until the beef is tender, and the sauce is reduced to a dry candy-like consistency, about 20 minutes.

Pick out large pieces of the cinnamon, star anise, and cardamom and season the rendang with salt if desired. Drain off any excess oil.

Rendang can be served family style in a large bowl, or on banana leaf lined plates over rice. Garnish with lime wedges and cilantro.