We were flicking through and salivating at the pictures in Chef Wan’s a.k.a. ‘the Food Ambassador for Malaysia’s’ cookbook, fittingly entitled The Best of Chef Wan. The photos are mouth-watering, but unfortunately the recipes raised some questions. I mean: Johor laksa using spaghetti? Cooking a beef rendang in just half an hour? The closer we looked the more flaws we detected, but by now our tummies were rumbling and we just had to cook up a Malaysian feast. Beef rendang, a fragrant and spicy beef languidly simmered in coconut milk, is a favourite of ours so we dusted off the pestle and mortar and got a-pounding.
Coconut is the star of this dish. Coconut milk in a tin tastes a bit funny, and whilst you can extract the milk in the usual method of grating, blending and squeezing, I find that the coconut extract by Kara (with no preservatives or additives) is an excellent substitute for those with er… better things to do. Another key element of the rendang is the kerisik, which is made by toasting and pounding grated coconut. My cousin was researching cooking methods and the Indonesian style of rendang pounds the coconut into a thick paste (i.e. keep pounding until you have lost the will to live and then some more) to release all the oils. It’s not just laziness, but I admit that I stop when it is ground into a powder as I love the texture it gives to the rendang.
We also fry the spice taste until it is aromatic, but most Indonesian recipes call for everything to be chucked in from the word go – an approach I’m curious to try next time. There must be hundreds of ways to make a rendang, so here is ours recorded for posterity. Just don’t forget that it is EVEN BETTER the next day, so double it up to be sure of leftovers. We served this with acar, a spicy pickled salad tossed with peanuts, and plain rice and scoffed the leftovers for a nasi lemak style breakfast.
RECIPE: BEEF RENDANG
For the spice paste
1 head of garlic
30 dried medium chillies (it depends how hot the chillies and your tastes are)
3 stalks lemongrass
1 inch ginger
2 inches galangal
2 tablespoons coriander seeds, toasted and ground
2 tablespoons cumin seeds, toasted and ground
2 tablespoons fennel seeds, toasted and ground
1 tablespoon ground black peppercorns
For the rendang
4 tablespoons of oil
1 kilo chuck steak or blade cut into cubes
1.25 litres of coconut milk (or half-half water if the milk is thick)
3 star anise
1 stick cinnamon
4 cardamom pods
4 lime leaves
1 turmeric leaf
1 bruised stalk of lemongrass
5 tablespoons of kerisik
2 tablespoons of tamarind pulp in 125 ml water
A dash of kecap manis
1 tablespoon palm sugar to taste
INSTRUCTIONS: Grind the ingredients for the spice paste and fry in a heavy-based pan until aromatic with the star anise, cinnamon, cardamom pods and cloves. Add the beef, lemongrass, turmeric and lime leaves and stir-fry for a minute of two so it is well coated in all the spices before pouring in the coconut milk. Turn the heat down to its lowest setting, pop the lid on and simmer for an hour and a half or two hours until the meat is tender. Remove the lid and turn the heat up to reduce the sauce down. Towards the end of cooking (i.e. when the sauce has nearly evaporated) stir in the kerisik, kecap manis, sugar and tamarind water and cook for ten more minutes, stirring so it doesn’t catch. Taste again to check the seasoning and add salt to taste. Serve with steamed or coconut rice and acar and enjoy, but be sure that you have plenty for the next day as it will taste even better!