February 02, 2011

Beef Rendang

Rendang is a style of curry common to Malaysia.  A similar dish, though somewhat less like a curry, is common to Indonesia and Singapore as well.  The defining feature of rendang is some sort of meat (most often beef, but lamb and goat are also popular) or poultry cooked for a long time in a mixture of coconut milk and flavorful seasonings, most often lemon grass, ginger or galangal, hot chilis and turmeric.  Traditional rendang is cooked until almost all the liquid is gone, reducing the coconut milk and other ingredients into a thick, rich, very flavorful gravy and rendering the meat extremely tender. 

I've had a couple versions of rendang over the years, and I've had a couple of recipes for awhile, but this past weekend was the first time I've gotten around to making a rendang of my own.   The results were so good, I can assure you the first time won't be my last.  In fact, I rate this Beef Rendang as among the very best recipes I've come up with to date.

The recipe below is based on several recipes I've found online and in my collection of cookbooks and magazine recipes.  Aside from the absolutely-required coconut milk, turmeric and lemon grass, several other ingredients are pretty much standard, including shredded, unsweetened coconut and large amounts of shallots and dried red chili peppers.   The rest of the ingredients all appeared in at least some of the rendang recipes I found, but weren't quite so standard.   I picked and chose among those to suit my and Juli's tastes.

It was a delight to cook this dish.  The fragrance as I cooked the paste made of shallots, lemon grass, ginger, garlic and chilis was literally mouthwatering.   Browning the marinated meat only added another level of delicious aroma.  The finished dish is rich, savory and spicy with a bit of citrus tang, and downright delicious.  The beef was cooked so tender it was all but falling apart.  I didn't end up cooking the dish quite long enough to rid the gravy of \all liquid, but the gravy was nonetheless quite thick and delicious.  After being tantalized by the wonderful scent for nearly two hours at that point, Juli and I were both ready to eat!

Although this dish takes a couple hours to make, most of that time is spent with the dish just simmering, requiring no attention other than an occasional stirring.   Try it out.  If you do, I think you'll agree the result is more than worth the time spent. 

Beef Rendang

yield = 6 servings

2       tablespoons fresh-squeezed lime juice
2       tablespoons Madras curry powder
2       teaspoons freshly-ground black pepper
1/2    teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/2    teaspoon table salt
2       tablespoons peanut oil, divided
2       pounds beef round steak or stew meat, cut into 1-inch pieces
10     dried red chili peppers
8       large shallots, peeled and chopped
6       cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
1 1/2 ounces fresh, peeled ginger, thinly sliced
3       tablespoons chopped lemon grass
1       teaspoon ground turmeric
2       cans coconut milk
1/2    cup shredded, unsweetened coconut, toasted
6       lime leaves
1       cinnamon stick
2       tablespoons fresh cilantro leaves to garnish (optional)

Add lime juice, Madras curry powder, black pepper, cayenne, table salt and one tablespoon peanut oil to a zipper-lock bag.  Add the beef, shake to coat and refrigerate one hour.

In a food processor, puree the dried chili peppers, shallots, garlic, ginger and lemon grass into a paste.  Stir the turmeric into the paste and set aside.

Heat the remaining teaspoon of oil in a Dutch oven over medium heat.   Add the chili and shallot pace and cook until the paste starts to brown (3-5 minutes).  Stir continuously; do not allow the paste to burn.  When the paste has browned, add the beef and marinade.  Cook until the meat is browned, stirring occasionally.

Stir in the coconut milk and add the coconut, lime leaves and cinnamon stick.  Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer until the liquid has reduced and thickened and the meat is tender (60-90 minutes). 

Discard the lime leaves and cinnamon stick, garnish with cilantro (if desired) and serve with jasmine rice. 

Madras curry powder is a particularly hot mixture of curry spices, one heavy on chili peppers.  Any relatively hot curry powder would be an acceptable substance, or one could use medium-heat chili powder and an extra 1/2 teaspoon cayenne in the marinade.

The fruit of the kaffir lime tree is inedible, but its leaves provide an unusually tart and fragrant lime flavor.  They can be found in Asian groceries, but if unavailable, grated zest of two fresh limes would be an acceptable substitute for purposes of this recipe.

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