Fine Cooking (April 2012)
"Kami bekerja sepanjang hari di depan dapur yang panas," everyone!
That's Malaysian for, "We slaved all day in front of a hot stove." It's a handy phrase to know in case you decide to make this Malaysian Beef Rendang.
We kid, we kid! Well, sort of.
But if you do make this, there's another Malaysian word you should learn: "lazat."
And that means "delicious."
To be blunt: This Malaysian Beef Rendang is a lot of work. It's a multi-step process that takes the better part of three hours, a lot of which is active time spent blending or stirring.
But it just might be worth it.
The reason this takes so long is because you're methodically building a super-intense, multi-level flavor profile. You make a spice-infused oil, an intense mix of dry ground spices, and a spicy "flavor base" before you even start cooking the rendang.
A couple notes on ingredients:
- Believe it or not, we actually had almost all these spices in our pantry already, even the tamarind concentrate. (Hey, you don't cook from food magazine recipes for four years for nothing.)
- We're not masochists, so we didn't even try to find "wild lime leaves." We zested half a lime instead.
- We thought we had fresh ginger in the fridge, but it had gone bad. So we used powdered (mixed with a little white pepper and lemon juice, per the indispensable Substituting Ingredients).
- We opted out of the optional galangal, which is a more pungent cousin of ginger. We're sure it would have added even more flavor, but we were eager to get started rather than running around town trying to find a tablespoon of galangal.
- In our opinion, you should definitely include the optional cilantro (unless you don't like it). It adds a very nice, fresh finish to the dish.
So after you've gathered all your ingredients, and after the slaving-away-at-a-hot-stove part of the show, how's the finished dish?
Phenomenal! Really, really delicious. The combination of all these intense spices and flavors -- fennel, cumin, cloves, coconut, lime, ginger -- gives you layer upon layer of amazing tastes. It's a complex, aromatic mix of spices that's difficult to describe. It's outstanding, and really unlike anything we've ever tasted before -- and how often can you say that about a recipe?
So maybe it was worth all the time. The only disappointing thing was that, when all was said and done, this really only made three moderate servings (as in, dinner for both of us and lunch for one of us). If you're going to devote an afternoon to this, our advice is to grab a big Dutch oven and double (or triple) the recipe.
As they say in Malaysia, "Anda akan gembira anda lakukan."
Recipe by Susheela Raghavan
NOTES FROM ZACH AND CLAY OF THE BITTEN WORD:
- Consider doubling this recipe. It's a relatively significant time-investment, and we wished it had yielded more food.
- Our rendang ended up a bit on the greasy side. In hindsight, we should have trimmed all the fat from our beef before cooking. (There's plenty of oil in this recipe to make up for it.)
15 dried japones chiles or 10 dried chiles de árbol or 3 Tbs. sambal oelek
1-1/2 cups sliced shallots (from 4 large shallots)
2 Tbs. sliced garlic
1 Tbs. sliced peeled fresh ginger
1 Tbs. chopped fresh or frozen and thawed galangal, a more pungent cousin of ginger (optional)
4 whole cloves
4 whole green cardamom pods
2 whole star anise
1 3-inch-long cinnamon stick, snapped in half
2 tsp. ground coriander
2 tsp. ground cumin
2 tsp. ground fennel seeds
1 tsp. ground turmeric
1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
3/4 cup canola or vegetable oil; more as needed
2 lb. boneless top blade beef chuck (or bottom or top round, flank, or sirloin steak), cut into 1/2-inch-thick slices, then cut into 1-1/2- to 2-inch pieces
1 13.5-oz. can unsweetened coconut milk
1/4 cup tamarind concentrate
3 wild lime leaves, thinly sliced
2 medium lemongrass stalks, bruised with back of knife and tied in a knot
4 tsp. palm sugar or dark brown sugar
2-1/2 tsp. table salt
1/2 cup tightly packed grated fresh coconut or unsweetened frozen coconut, thawed
1/4 cup coarsely chopped fresh cilantro, for garnish (optional)
Lime wedges, for garnish (optional)
If using dried chiles, steep them in hot water until pliable, 5 to 8 minutes; then slit and seed them (use gloves). Put the chiles, shallots, garlic, ginger, galangal (if using), and 1/4 cup water in a food processor and process to a coarse purée, about 3 minutes (if using whole dried chiles, you’ll still see little pieces of the skins).
In a small bowl, combine the cloves, cardamom pods, star anise, and cinnamon pieces. In a second small bowl, combine the coriander, cumin, fennel, turmeric, and pepper.
Heat 2 Tbs. of the oil in a 12-inch skillet or wok over medium-low heat until shimmering hot. Add the whole spice blend and cook, stirring constantly, until the cinnamon sticks unfold (the cardamom may also crack open), 1 to 2 minutes; don’t let the spices burn. Add another 2 Tbs. of the oil and the ground spice blend and cook, stirring constantly, until the mixture sizzles and becomes fragrant, 30 to 60 seconds more (if the spices stick to the pan, add a little more oil to prevent burning).
Add the remaining 1/2 cup oil and the flavor base and cook, stirring, until the purée is an intense reddish-brown, about 10 minutes. Raise the heat to medium, add the beef and cook, stirring, to coat it with the spices, about 2 minutes. Add the coconut milk, tamarind concentrate, lime leaves, and lemongrass and cook, stirring constantly, until the mixture comes to a boil, about 5 minutes.
Reduce the heat to low, add the sugar and salt, and simmer, stirring occasionally for the first hour and then more frequently as the stew thickens, until the liquid is very thick and oil appears on its surface, about 1-3/4 hours. The meat will not be fork-tender at this point.
Meanwhile, squeeze any excess liquid from the coconut with your hands. In a 10-inch skillet, toast the coconut over low heat, stirring constantly, until golden-brown, about 10 minutes. Transfer to a small bowl.
Stir the toasted coconut into the stew and then continue stirring until it's incorporated and much of the liquid is gone, about 15 minutes. Add 1 cup water if you prefer a saucy consistency. Continue to cook, stirring frequently, until the meat is fork-tender, 20 to 30 minutes more (the oil will start frothing after 15 to 20 minutes).
Remove the lemongrass, cinnamon pieces, star anise, and as many cardamom pods and cloves as you can find. Transfer the meat to a serving platter and garnish with the cilantro and lime wedges (if using).
Make ahead tips
Beef rendang will keep for up to 5 days in the refrigerator, but expect it to become drier and more intense as it sits.