Rendang is the signature dish and comfort food of Malaysia: Think of it as akin to the American pot roast but featuring the Malaysian flavors of fresh lemongrass, galangal, ginger, shallots, cumin, cinnamon, turmeric, and chilies. There is one other difference in the technique: The searing of meat happens at the end of cooking, once all the liquid has evaporated, allowing the meat to brown in its own fat. Although beef rendang is a rich dish, in Malaysian cooking, seasonings such as turmeric, cinnamon, fresh garlic, and ginger are used for their anti-inflammatory benefits and to improve the digestion of meat. Rendang is delicious when paired with any sambal and Fragrant Coconut Rice.
- 6 shallots, peeled and quartered
- 2 fresh red chilies, chopped
- 4 stalks fresh lemongrass, outer layer discarded, bottom 6 inches thinly sliced; or 5 tablespoons frozen lemongrass
- 1 piece (3 inches) unpeeled fresh galangal, chopped
- 1 piece (2 inches) fresh ginger, peeled and chopped
- 6 cloves garlic, peeled and left whole
- 1 tablespoon chili or cayenne powder
- 1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
- 1/4 cup Tamarind Water (See Notes)
- 1/4 cup peanut or coconut oil
- 2 cinnamon sticks (3 inches each)
- 3 whole star anise
- 3 pounds beef chuck, cut into 2-inch cubes
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- 2 cups coconut milk
- 1 cup toasted grated coconut or toasted desiccated coconut (kerisik; See Notes)
- Salt to taste
- Prepare the spice paste: Place the shallots, chilies, lemongrass, galangal, ginger, garlic, chili powder, turmeric, cumin, and tamarind water in a food processor and blend into a smooth paste. If needed to facilitate blending, add a little water in small increments while the motor is running. You will end up with a fragrant, bright-orange spice paste.
- Braise the beef: Heat the oil in a large Dutch oven or other large heavy pot over medium heat. Add the cinnamon and star anise and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the spice paste and mix well to combine. Add the beef, sugar, and coconut milk and mix well. Cover and cook over low heat until the meat is tender, about 1 hour 15 minutes, stirring occasionally to prevent the spices from sticking and scorching.
- After about an hour and 15 minutes, you will have a lot of liquid in the pot. Uncover the pot, mix in the grated coconut, and continue cooking until most of the liquid is reduced, the oil has separated onto the surface, and the meat is fork tender, about 30 minutes. The sauce will appear thicker and darker brown at this point. As the meat starts to brown, it is key to stir occasionally to prevent the meat from sticking and burning.
- Add salt to taste and mix well. Turn off the heat. Allow the meat to rest for a few minutes before serving.
- 3-1/2 ounces block tamarind pulp
- 4-1/2 cups hot water
- Place the block of tamarind in a bowl. Add the water and allow the tamarind to sit for 5 minutes to soften.
- Using your fingers, squeeze the tamarind block (like you would squeeze a sponge) until the pulp separates from the seed and dissolves in the water. Strain the tamarind water into a medium bowl. Discard the seeds and any pulp that has not dissolved. The strained tamarind liquid should be reddish brown in color.
- Transfer the tamarind water to an airtight canning bottle or jar. Store in the refrigerator for up to 1 week or in the freezer for up to 6 months.
- To use small quantities of your tamarind liquid, simply allow it to thaw on a countertop and remove the amount you require with a clean, dry spoon. Freeze the remainder. The tamarind liquid contains natural acids that prevent it from turning rancid; as such it can be thawed and frozen again provided a clean dry spoon is used each time.
Toasted Coconut (Kerisik)
Kerisik is toasted grated fresh coconut that adds texture and brings a smoky aroma and buttery flavor to meat dishes. In rendang, kerisik is added at the end to help thicken the sauce and give the dish a lovely brown color. To make kerisik, start with frozen unsweetened grated or shredded coconut, which comes in a 6- by 6-inch (16-ounce) package, imported from Thailand or the Philippines and sold at most Asian supermarkets.
- Thaw the frozen coconut by placing the package in a bowl of hot water for about 30 minutes.
- Place the thawed grated coconut in a dry wok over medium heat and toast, stirring occasionally to ensure the base does not burn, until it goes from white to brown, about 30 minutes. Once the coconut appears dry, brown, and fragrant, remove from the heat.
- Pulse the coconut in a food processor into a rough powder. Alternatively, the traditional method is to pound the toasted coconut in small batches using a mortar and pestle to release the fragrant oils.
- Store the toasted coconut in an airtight container. Toasted coconut can last up to 4 months in the pantry, 6 months in the refrigerator, and more than 1 year in the freezer.
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Cover courtesy of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Beef Rendang is excerpted from THE MALAYSIAN KITCHEN © 2017 by Christina Arokiasamy. Food Photography © 2017 by Penny De Los Santos. On-Location Photography © 2017 by David Hagerman. Reproduced by permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. All rights reserved.