Beef Rendang

Our hosts for October were Rayrena of Happy Cows and Belita of Culinary Adventures. (The pictures through out this post are from Rayrena of Happy Cows, Liz of Bits 'N Bites and Maybelle's Mom of Feeding Maybelle.) Here is Rayrena's post.

Since this is my birthday month, I figured what better gift than being able to choose the recipe for our October challenge

Almost two years ago I listened to a podcast on The Splendid Table that featured James Oseland, who is now the Editor in Chief of Saveur magazine. The recipe he described and shared with them was for Beef Rendang. I've been haunted by this dish and was excited to give it a try.

I received permission from the author to reprint this recipe and an accompanying pickle recipe. I am also posting a vegetarian/vegan option just to this forum but we do not have his permission to post it publicly. I am looking forward to trying the vegetarian option since it sounds delicious!

If you are interested, you can listen to the author's interview at The Splendid Table and view the recipe there as well.

Excerpted from Cradle of Flavor: Home Cooking from the Spice Islands of Indonesia, Malaysia, and Singapore by James Oseland (W. W. Norton & Company, Inc., 2006) Copyright 2006 by James Oseland.

Beef Rendang (Rendang Daging Sapi)
Makes 4 to 6 servings
This extravagantly rich, dry-braised beef curry is a signature dish of the Minangkabau highlands of West Sumatra, Indonesia. It's a triumph of flavor, with lime leaves, nutmeg, and cloves. The dish is cooked by a process that inverts normal braising. The beef is slowly simmered in a spiced coconut-milk broth until the broth evaporates and the meat is left to sauté in the intensely flavored rendered coconut and beef oils left in the pot.

This recipe comes from Rohati, my cooking guru in Padang, West Sumatra. She offered me a few sage words of advice when she gave it to me. First, she said, allow plenty of time to make it. Rendang has its own lethargic cooking rhythm, so that the more you try to rush it, the longer it seems to take. I know what she means. I've often underestimated how long it takes to cook and have left hungry dinner guests waiting while it continued slowly to simmer away. Second, she said, use a shallow, wide pan, such as a skillet, rather than a deep soup pot. The less enclosed the cooking space, the easier it will be for the liquid to evaporate—in other words, the opposite of how you want to cook a curry. And third, Rohati advised me always to use the best-quality beef I can get. In America this means avoiding precut stewing beef, which is of inconsistent quality. Instead, choose boneless chuck or bottom round laced through with bright white fat and cut it into cubes yourself.

"Rendang is sacred food in West Sumatra," Rohati said. "If you skimp on ingredients, you risk upsetting Allah."

If you decide to use the maximum number of chiles this recipe calls for, you may need to use a standard-sized food processor, rather than a small one. An excellent garnish for this dish is a tablespoon of very finely sliced fresh or thawed, frozen kaffir lime leaves. Be sure to remove the center stem of each leaf before slicing it.

For the Flavoring Paste:
* 1 whole nutmeg, cracked open with a nutcracker or a heavy, blunt object such as the bottom of a glass measuring cup
* 5 whole cloves
* 6 shallots (about 5 ounces), coarsely chopped
* 3 cloves garlic, coarsely chopped
* 5 to 20 fresh red Holland chiles or other fresh long, red chiles such as Fresno or cayenne, stemmed and coarsely chopped
* 1 piece fresh or thawed, frozen turmeric, 2 inches long, peeled and coarsely chopped (about 2 teaspoons), or 1 1/2 teaspoons ground turmeric
* 1 piece fresh ginger, 2 inches long, peeled and thinly sliced against the grain (about 2 tablespoons)
* 1 piece fresh or thawed, frozen galangal, 2 inches long, peeled and thinly sliced against the grain (about 2 tablespoons; optional)
* 5 candlenuts or unsalted macadamia nuts

For the remainder of the dish:
* 2 pounds well-marbled boneless beef chuck or bottom round, cut into 2- to 2 1/2-inch cubes
* 2 1/2 cups unsweetened coconut milk
* 3 thick stalks fresh lemongrass, each tied into a knot
* 1 piece cinnamon stick, 4 inches long
* 7 whole fresh or thawed, frozen kaffir lime leaves
* 5 whole daun salam leaves (optional)
* 1 teaspoon kosher salt
* 1 tablespoon very finely shredded fresh or thawed, frozen kaffir lime leaves (optional)

1. To make the flavoring paste, place the nutmeg and cloves in a small food processor and pulse until ground to a dusty powder, about 2 minutes.

2. Add the shallots, garlic, chiles, turmeric, ginger, galangal (if using), and candlenuts to the ground spices. Pulse until you have a chunky-smooth paste the consistency of cooked oatmeal.

3. In a 12-inch skillet (nonstick works best), mix the beef and the flavoring paste until well combined. Add the coconut milk, lemongrass, cinnamon, whole lime leaves, daun salam leaves (if using), and salt. Stir well to combine and bring to a gentle boil over medium heat. Immediately reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer uncovered at a slow, steady bubble, stirring every 10 to 20 minutes with a spatula to prevent the meat and coconut milk from sticking and scorching. You'll probably need to adjust the heat periodically to maintain an even simmer.

4. The meat, coconut milk, and flavoring paste will now go on a fascinating journey. At first, the broth will be thin and gorgeously bright orange. As it cooks, the coconut milk will reduce, its fats (as well as the fat the meat renders) separating from the solids. It will become progressively thicker and darker, eventually turning brown. Continue to simmer gently until the liquid has reduced by about 95 percent, stirring every 15 minutes or so to prevent sticking. Only the meat, oils, and a bit of very thick sauce will remain in the pot. This will take anywhere from 2 to 3 hours, depending on the skillet that you use, how hot the fire is, and the richness of the coconut milk. Test the meat; it should be tender enough to poke easily with a fork. Taste some of the liquid for salt, and add a pinch more if needed.

5. When all the liquid has evaporated, reduce the heat to low (the meat and the remaining sauce are prone to burning) and allow the beef to brown slowly in the rendered fat. (The fat may be foamy at this point, but it will settle down when the cooking stops.) Stir every 5 minutes or so to prevent sticking and scorching, being careful not to break the beef apart. Continue sautéing the beef until it's the color of roasted coffee beans, 5 to 10 minutes longer. The surface of the beef should be barely moist and have an appetizing oily sheen. (If there is too much oil in the pan for your liking, skim some of it off with a spoon and set aside for later use; it's wonderful for sautéing potatoes.)

6. Remove and discard the cinnamon, lemongrass, lime leaves, and daun salam leaves (if used), and then transfer the beef to a serving dish. (Alternatively, serve this dish with all the aromatics, for a more rustic presentation.) Garnish with the shredded lime leaves, if using. Allow the beef to rest for at least 30 minutes before serving. Slightly warm room temperature will best show off its intensely aromatic flavors. This dish will taste even better the next day.

My testing notes:
1) For the nutmeg and cloves, I pounded in a small mortar. The threw the remaining paste ingredients in a food blender. I used some of the coconut milk to get it all moving, then poured it all over the meat before cooking.
2) For the lemongrass, remove the first couple outer leaves, trim away the dry tips and pound the stalk with the handle of your knife or a meat mallet, then tie into a knot.
3) The first time I used dried turmeric, didn't use the galangal or lime leaves and it was very good.
4) One time I used 8 cayenne chiles and it was fairly spicy, the next time I used 6 Fresno chiles and there wasn't much heat.
5) Both times I had a hard time getting the meat tender. Both times I ended up adding a can of chicken stock towards the last 1/2 hour and cooking until tender, then cranking up the heat until it evaporated.
6) Definitely use a nonstick pan. And be watchful towards the end, the resulting paste can brown quickly!

Following is the recipe for the accompanying pickle dish:

Javanese Cucumber and Carrot Pickle (Acar Timun)
Makes 4 servings.
* 3 small Kirby (pickling) cucumbers (about 10 ounces), unpeeled, stemmed, cut into matchsticks about 2" long and 1/4" wide
* 1 large carrot (about 5 ounces), peeled and cut into matchsticks about 2" long and 1/4" wide
* 3 shallots (about 2 1/2 ounces), thinly sliced lengthwise
* 1 1/2 tablespoons kosher salt
* 2 cups boiling water
* 2 heaping tablespoons sugar
* 2 tablespoonspalm, cider, or rice vinegar
* 2 fresh green Thai chiles, stemmed and cut on the diagonal into slices 1/4" thick

1. Combine the cucumbers, carrots, shallots, and salt in a heatproof, nonreactive bowl. Pour the boiling water over the vegetables and stir well. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap or aluminum foil and let the vegetables rest for 15 minutes.

2. Drain the vegetables in a colander, gently squeezing out excess water with your hands. They should be fairly dry, but they need not be bone-dry.

3. Transfer the vegetables to a nonreactive bowl. Add the sugar, vinegar, and chiles and stir well to combine. Taste a cucumber. It should have a balance of saltiness, sourness, and sweetness. Keep in mind that it is a condiment and should be fairly strongly flavored. Adjust the seasonings, including the salt, accordingly.

4. Allow the dish to rest at least 15 minutes, to give the flavors time to settle. Serve the pickle at room temperature, never cold, which would mute the flavor. This pickle should be eaten within hours of making it. If left longer, it will lose its perkiness and robustly sweet-tart flavor.

My testing notes:

1) I just used a plate to cover the bowl while the pickle and hot water mixture.
2) I forgot to add the Thai chiles and it was still good.
3) Play with it, I preferred a more sour pickle so added more vinegar.

Quotes From the Forum:
I made it for dinner tomorrow but had a few bites tonight. delicious. and the smell was heavenly. Maybelle's Mom of Feeding Maybelle

The pickles were really nice. Such an easy recipe too. I can't wait to try it next summer with vegetables from my garden Liz of Bits 'N Bites

I made it today Rayrena. We loved it. The flavor was amazing. As I was adding all the spices I was thinking oh my will this be good all together. Lori of Lori's Lipsmacking Goodness