Auntie Ruby's Beef Rendang (Dry Beef Curry)

Sunday, March 02, 2014

Editorial: This recipe was first posted 3 years ago. I have revised it. It is a great dish and I hope to make it again soon. It works equally well with chicken. 

As a child - and this was way before I discovered Western-styled steaks or even heard of mad cow disease - beef rarely made an appearance on our dining tables.

Except for beef rendang.

Local beef cooked the rendang way transforms it into a very special dish. From the humble to the sublime, slowly braised, beef rendang is to Malays what beef bourguignon is to the French.

So what makes rendang, rendang?

These days, any dry curry beef will lay claim to that name. I have seen my Mum cook various kinds of curry, dry or wet, (and I will get to blog about them at some point) but to her, it is only rendang when there is kerisik.

Kerisik. If it sounds Malay it is because it is. If there is to be an English translation, it has to be the phrase: "grated coconut which is toasted and pounded into oily submission."

In those days, packets of Kara processed coconut cream was unheard of. We buy grated coconut from the market (the grater looks like a spinning cactus) and extract the milk by hand- squeezing it in Good Morning white towels. And to save costs, the grated coconut was given a second life as kerisik.

But to make good kerisik, the grated coconut should be toasted as is (with milk and all) in a wok with small flame. It gets flipped around till it is golden in colour. Then it is moved to the mortar where it is pounded.

It can take a good 20 minutes to
toast the grated coconut
I can almost see and smell kerisik as I write this. For when it comes to mortar work, this is where I usually step in. Being the youngest in the Wong family, I was the lowest in the food chain. And so, I had to lower myself, squat and pound away (for some reason, the mortar is always on the floor). Come to think of it, it was rather therapeutic to see the toasted loose bits transformed into a smooth glistening gluey oily paste. It gets increasingly harder to pound because the pestle will stick to the mortar and this is how I knew the metamorphosis was taking place. It smelled fragrantly great. And it was etched forever in my nostrils: this is the heart of a rendang dish.
Thanks, Deb!

But there is hope for the modern man (and woman) who have forgotten how to squat. These days you can buy ready-made kerisik. You can get it in bottles from Sheng Shiong. Some will say you can even blend it (which I have yet to try). I get my regular market supply from runners from Ipoh. I can tell you though, the fragrance falls far short of freshly made ones. But most of your guests have no childhood nostril memories to compete with. So they will still end up saying ‘sedap!’

Oh well, I still prefer freshly made kerisik. And so I bought 1 grated coconut from my favorite Indian spice lady, toasted it in the wok till golden brown and then pounded it. To be more exact, I got the current bottom-of-the-food-chain in the Wong family to squat. She did a splendid job. Three cheers to MGS!

Topside beef in 1.5 in cubes
Before we get to the recipe, some comments:

Meat: So, ‘what’s the beef’? You need braising cuts. Shin beef is a popular choice, cooks faster, tastes great and one of the cheapest cuts. The beef will shrink and so, you may want to factor that in as you (or the beef seller) cubes your beef. If you are not sure, just talk with the seller in the wet market. That said, I prefer topside cut as the meat will flake nicely after it is cooked. You can almost pull strings of meat of it. But you must be prepared to cook it longer (about 50% more cooking time) and doing this carefully without burning the sauce. You need to simmer it on low fire. It is about "slow and low" cooking.

Aromatics: I always hesitate in listing out the spices in recipes. It lengthens the list of ingredients and makes the recipe look and sound complicated. It is easier to just add a few tsp of meat curry powder and that is perfectly ok. But if you already have these spices, it is really not difficult at all to use them. Freshly grounded or toasted ones are always better for curry making.
Clock-wise: Cinnamon stick,
cloves, cardamom seeds,
coriander seeds,cumin seeds.
Star aniseed in center,
Kaffir Lime Leaves on the right

Chilli: Truth be told, beef rendang needs to be spicy. And I mean, really spicy. Or else, it is just not shiok or ends up tasting like some wet preserved beef from Taiwan. I prefer to add chilli padi or small hot chilies. That said, whether it is one or five chili icons on your menu, it is up to you.

Ingredients for the sauce: Why buy packet curry paste if you have blenders which can easily do the work for you? Peel, peel, peel then press the button and blend, blend, blend. That’s about it. Ok, peeling the shallots will make you cry a river. Put on glasses, or better still, wear swimming goggles. Or you can buy some peeled ones from Sheng Shiong. Even using large red onions will give you far better results than paste. To make rendang, I prefer some texture in the dry curry and so I blend it coarsely.

lemon grass (r), giner (l),
turmeric (c), Galangal (top)
For those overseas, just improvise. White onions, skip galangal, use chili powder, skip asam gelugur and use lime (for the sour), curry powder in place of fresh spices etc. You may lack in authentic ingredients, but you do have better and fresher beef. I suppose half a rendang is better than none at all.

– Curries need to be sufficiently salty. About 4 tsps should do for 2 kg of beef but the best way is to add half of that first when frying the ingredients. Then add more later to your taste.

Kaffir Lime Leaves (Daun Limau Perut): If you are lazy like me, just bunch it together and cut the leaves finely with scissors over the wok.

Oil – Rendang, both in cooking and as a final dish, needs lots of it. You want to braise your beef, not boil it. For 2 kg of beef, I will say one bowl at least. Remember that you can still remove some of it after the dish is cooked.

Recipe for Beef Rendang

2 kg of topside or shin beef, cut into 1.5 inch cubes

30 pieces of dried chilli
20 Shallots – thinly sliced
1 inch turmeric (kunyit)
2 inches of galangal (blue ginger or lengkuas) – thinly sliced
2 inches of ginger – thinly sliced
2 stalks of lemon grass – bruised (just give it a good whack with the blunt side of the chopper)
A bowl of oil (250 ml)
Sugar and salt to taste (note: Gula Melaka can be added too)
200 ml fresh coconut milk (or use stored bought coconut milk)
2 dried tamarind slices (asam gelugur or asam keping)
This is served with lemamg
A bunch of Kaffir Lime leaves (or daun limau perut) - stems removed and blended or cut finely
1 grated Coconut to make the kerisik (you only need 3 tablespoons of the kerisik)

Aromatics/Spices:1 Cinnamon Stick
1 tsp Coriander seeds
1/2 tsp Cumin seeds
1 Star Aniseeds
5 Cardamom pods
3 cloves

Making the Kerisik
  1. Use 1 grated coconut (clean, without any husks). 
  2. In a wok on low fire, toast the coconut till it is brown in colour, but not burnt. Stir constantly to prevent burning. It will take about 30 minutes.
  3. Using a mortar (lesong), pound the toasted coconut in small batches till it is a oily and sticky paste.
Note that if you squeezed the grated coconut to extract the milk (as is done commercially), it will be harded to produce an oily kerisik. Don't be a cheapskate: leave the milk in. One grated coconut can produce a bowl of kerisik. Store the rest in the freezer for future use.

Preparing the rest of the ingredients
  1. Cube the beef into 1.5 inch cubes. The beef will shrink as you braise. You can choose to have larger pieces. Just ensure the size of the cubes are even for uniform cooking. Larger pieces will need longer cooking time. 
  2. Soak the dried chillies. 
  3. Peel the onions, garlic, ginger, tumeric and galangal and slice into smaller pieces.
  4. Slice the bottom white part of the lemon grass.
  5. Toast the cumin seeds and coriander seeds for a minute in the dry wok. 
  6. Blend the above (no. 2-5) together. Coarsely.
  7. Dice the Kaffir lime leaves finely.
Cooking Steps
  1. Heat up the oil in the wok. 
  2. Add the star aniseed, cardamon and cloves and dry toast for a minute. 
  3. Add the blended paste, 2 tablespoons of the kerisik and simmer in low fire for 15 minutes. 
  4. Put in the beef cubes and mix into the paste. 
  5. Then add coconut cream and some water . Fill up the wok till it covers most of your meat.
  6. Simmer in low in heat for about an hour in or till the meat is tender enough. Stir occasionally to prevent bottom burning. Note that if you are using topside beef, you need to cook it longer. 
  7. Near the end, add in 1 tablespoon kerisik and diced kaffir lime leaves.
6 kg of Beef simmering in the Sauce
You can serve beef rendang warm or at room temperature. It goes very well with rice, bread or lemang.

The fact is, at the start, what you see in the wok is nowhere near the end result. It has a watery beginning and the colors are off, but just let it simmer and it will eventually look rendangy as the curry dries up. Just remember to stir and add some water occasionally to avoid burning the meats. 

Burning your rendang is bad. The burnt taste will permeate the whole dish and there is nothing you can do to reverse it. It can still be eaten. Maybe just serve it quietly to your family.

And order in beef lasagna for your guests.

Chicken Rendang is crazily good. 
Chicken Rendang tastes very 'sedap' too. The cooking time is shorter and must be cut into larger pieces. You can hardly find chicken cooked this way these days and one reason why rendang has become synonymous with beef. 

But Chicken Rendang exists and it's an amazing dish.

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  1. Haha...just bought ready make Rendang :)

  2. Ya, if eat at home, just buy good enough. Only bother to make if u feeding a dozen or more!

  3. Typo mistake. Sugar should start in another sentence. Corrected.

  4. Thanks, try to make this rendang from scratch even I can get ready cook packet rendang spices. I do not like the sour taste can I exclude the tamarind?
    I think Indonesian rendang do not has the sour taste, my family love the rendang chicken in a Indonesian restaurant in Singapore (Kartini Indonesian Restaurant)

    1. Sure, u should adjust according to what you like. The best rendang is the one you like!

  5. Hi, your picture shown all 6 spices including cinnamon stick but your recipe require ingredients under aromatics/spices does not has cinnamon stick?

  6. I cooked the beef rendang recipe from your blog 'excluding tamarind' it taste fantastic good, next time I will try cooking with chicken.Thanks a lot for your recipe.

    1. Most welcome. Tamarind is for the sour. Lime cam replace that. It is great w chicken too.

  7. Nice blog!

    Rendang is one of the most popular dishes from Padang, West Sumatra. Padang is known by their delicious meals made from coconut milk. You can make it spicy or mild, depend how you like it. :)

  8. Hi, - I cooked beef rendang last week for my Dad using your recipe. The taste was so good that he wants me to cook chicken rendang this weekend. I am thinking of adding tamarind and turmeric leaf. Is that any other suggestions I can use for cooking chicken?

    1. U basically use the same recipe. Can add tamarind (for the sour) and turmeric leaf if u like. Use a good Kampung or naked neck chicken. Cut the chicken in larger pieces (like KFC)

  9. Tried your recipe and it turned out really well, thanks so much!!! One question though - you didn't indicate in your recipe as to what to do with the spices after toasting and setting aside?
    I assumed I had to pound the cumin and coriander seeds and put the powders together with the rempah while the cardamom+cinnamon+cloves+star aniseed to be put into the pot towards the end of cooking time? - JC

  10. Toast, blend and mix with the rempah. The same for the other whole spices, except that you dun blend them. Best to cook the spices at the start with the rempah to infuse the flavours.

  11. Lovely! Tried exactly what the recipe called for! Fantastic! Thank for you the recipe!

  12. Best rendang recipe i found online!! I ate beef rendang for the first time at an indonesian restaurant fell in love ever since. It tastes similar to our bangladeshi dish "beef bhuna". Thanks so much for sharing your expertise!! :)

  13. 1 whole coconut will get 1 bowl kerisik. Do I put in 1/2 bowl of kerisik at the start and remaining 1/2 bowl at the end? Thank you.

  14. Lyn - Appreciate your question. I have clarified this in the recipe. Do tell me if it is still not clear.

  15. Hi. I love in a country where I cannot access fresh coconut do you know of a way I can use dessicated coconut for the kerisik? Thanks heaps.

  16. Hi Theresa - You can use desiccated coconut if that is the closest thing you have to coconut meat.

    1. Thanks for the quick reply! Would you have any idea what would be the equivalent of 1 coconut (in your 1st point) in grams? Also would you suggest reconstituting it?

  17. Theresa - There is no need to reconstitute. Just fry it till it is brown and then blend it. The outcome won't be like the kerisik you see in this post but it will be close. Just estimate and dun worry about the quantity as you don't need to be precise in recipes like these.

    1. Thanks so much! You're great! Here's my blog. When I get to try out your fantastic recipe I'll definitely link it to you!

  18. wow! nice recipe. My favorit recipe. Big thanks to you for sharing such great information.

  19. Just made your beef rendang. Out this world. I made the kerisik from scratch - a lot of works but the best rendang recipe I have tried by far. Tasted flat until I added on the last tablespoon of kerisik - completely blown away! Had my rendang on Nasi kunyit, tasted just like home and what real rendang should be!! Thanks very much for your recipe!!!

  20. Hi, I have a question about kerisik substitute. Can I toast and pound sweeten coconut flakes instead of unsweetened? I can only find sweetened coconut flakes here in South Carolina USA. Please advise. I used to eat beef rendang all the time when I was in college. My city I currently live in is not diverse at all.

  21. Yes, you can use coconut flakes.

  22. Curious to know if you have any thoughts about using sous vide for your rendang? I'm thinking of using beef cheek and wondering if it's worth the extra time to do this sous vide - vacuum the raw beef w the rempah and SV then reduce the gravy/spice separately to evaporate most of the liquid before adding back the meat to do the final fry....

    1. Hi, I have actually used SV to do rendang many times. Ok, I should put up the recipe soon.

  23. Hi, if I use curry powder (e.g. Baba brand) instead of fresh spices, approximately how much powder should I use? Thanks :)