There are as many recipes for beef rendang as there are cooks who make it. It's a complexly flavoured dish because of the large amount of spices and herbs. It takes a long time to cook to allow the meat to become tender and the spices to mellow and blend. It tastes best if you make the rendang a day (or longer) before you intend to serve it. It's traditionally served with rice but it also goes well with Indian bread. Serve it with pickles or a sharply flavoured vegetable dish, to balance the richness of the rendang.
I used beef cheeks for this dish but you can also use brisket or any well-marbled cut that has a sufficient amount of tendon or connective tissue that benefits from long, slow cooking. Don't use a lean cut or the end results will be throat-chokingly dry and hard. The meat needs about three hours to simmer until it's tender, then about 30 minutes of watching it very closely - stirring constantly at the end - to reduce the sauce so that it's very thick. You could make it in less time in a pressure cooker, but you'll need to use less coconut milk, and you might need to adjust the amount of spices.
Purists would say that to get the best flavour, the spices should be pounded in a mortar. They're probably right, but I'm perfectly happy using my high-speed bullet blender that I bought for juicing (although I've never used it for that purpose) - it does an excellent job of making spice pastes.
8 grams whole dried bird's-eye chillies
250 grams shallots, peeled, then roughly chopped
30 grams garlic cloves, peeled. then roughly chopped
45 grams ginger, peeled, then roughly chopped
20 grams fresh turmeric, peeled, then roughly chopped
30 grams fresh galangal, peeled, then roughly chopped
1 whole nutmeg, broken into smaller pieces (I wrap it in a small towel [so the pieces don't fly all over the place] then whack it with a metal meat mallet)
1 cinnamon stick (preferably Ceylon), about 8cm long, broken into smaller pieces
The juicy bases (the bottom 4cm) of three lemongrass stalks
3 green cardamom pods
8 macadamia nuts
25 grams tamarind pulp soaked in 100ml warm water
1 tsp sugar
2 tsp fine sea salt
30ml fish sauce
50ml cooking oil
6 curry leaves
6 kaffir lime leaves
50ml cooking oil
800ml coconut milk
Toasted coconut shreds
Break the dried chillies in half and shake out as many seeds as possible. Put the chillies in a bowl and add about 80ml of warm water. Leave to soak for about 30 minutes, or until the chillies have softened. Drain the chillies then put them into a blender or small food processor. Add the shallots, garlic, ginger, turmeric, galangal, nutmeg, cinnamon stick, lemongrass, cardamom and macadamia nuts. Drain the tamarind pulp through a small sieve and press on the solids to extract as much liquid as possible. Pour the tamarind liquid into the blender or food processor and add the sugar, salt and fish sauce. Blend the ingredients to a thick, rough paste. If needed, add some warm water so the ingredients grind more easily.
Pour the oil into a large pot and heat over a medium flame. When the oil is hot, add the curry leaves and kaffir lime leaves and fry until fragrant. Add the spice paste and cook over a medium flame for five minutes (or longer, if you added a lot of water when grinding the ingredients). Stir frequently until the paste is thick and has darkened, and the oil starts to separate out of the ingredients. Stir in the coconut milk. Cut the beef into 4cm chunks (they shrink as they cook) then add them to the pan and stir to coat with the other ingredients. Turn the heat to low, cover the pot partially with the lid and cook at a low simmer for about three hours, or until the meat is very tender, stirring occasionally. If the sauce starts to dry out before the meat is tender, stir in some hot water.
When the meat is tender, remove the lid and fish out the curry leaves and kaffir lime leaves. Taste the sauce and add more salt and/or sugar, if needed. Turn the heat to medium and simmer to reduce the sauce until it thickly coats the meat. Stir frequently during this time, and constantly towards the end so the spices don't burn.
Put the rendang into a serving dish and scatter toasted coconut on top. Serve with rice or bread.
Styling: Nellie Ming Lee
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