What’s your favourite curry? Maybe it’s a rich and spicy Rogan Josh or a hot and sour Vindaloo? Thinking further east, there are wonderfully aromatic Thai curries, fragrant with lemongrass and lime tempered by luscious coconut. Japanese curries are sweet and fruity, and of course us Brits claim a whole subcontinent of curry as our own. Curries are exciting, full of spice and flavour, you must have a palate of cardboard not to love a good curry! Now if you were to ask me what my favourite curry is I would have no hesitation in saying Rendang. The incredible concoction of flavours from Indonesia/Malaysia, it’s an explosive mix of the earthy, warm tones of the Indian sub-continent and the high fragrant notes of SE Asia. Both tempered and enriched by lashings of coconut. It’s most commonly made with tough cuts beef (Rendang Daging) but it’s also great with shoulder of lamb. I’ve never heard of a pork rendang and I see no reason why it wouldn’t taste great but it’s like having a pork biryani, just sounds wrong doesn’t it? Over the years I’ve tried cooking it with many different cuts of beef; blade, shin, oxtail and brisket. But there’s one cut above all others that makes my perfect Rendang; cheek. Imagine big chunks of wobbly beef that appear solid but when you put it into your mouth melts into a flood of beefy rendang goodness. Well imagine no more, because here is my recipe.
Rendang recipes change from cook to cook. Please feel free to alter any component of this dish, add cumin and coriander if you want a more Indian vibe, add belachan (shrimp paste) or fish sauce for a deep salty tang. The only thing you musn’t change is the method. Rendang must be dry. It must not be swimming in sauce, if it is then you’ve not cooked it properly and the flavours would not have been fully developed. This recipe makes a lot of Rendang, halve it should you wish.
Ingredients for the Spice Paste
Dried Long Red Chillies (Kashmiri Style) – 20
Shallots – 300g
Ginger – 50g
Galangal – 50g
Turmeric Root – 20g
Garlic – 50g
Nutmeg – 2, yes two whole nutmeg
Cloves – 10
Cinnamon – 1 tbl
Candle Nuts (macadamia nuts if unavailable) – 12
and the rest
Beef Cheeks – 2.5kg cut into large golfball sized chunks
Lemongrass – 3 stalks lightly bashed and tied into knots
Kaffir Lime Leaves – 10
Curry Leaves from 2 stalks
Coconut cream – 2 cans (600ml)
Dessicated coconut – 80g (optional)
Make the paste
- Tear off the stalks of the dried chillies and shake out the seeds before softening them in warm water. When they’re soft blitz them in a food processor with the shallots, ginger, galangal, turmeric and garlic. If you need to loosen this mixture to help the blending then use a little of the soaking water. Make sure that everything is well blended.
- Grind the nutmeg, cloves and candlenuts as fine as possible in a big mortar with a heavy pestle. Add the blended mixture and the cinnamon to the freshly ground spices and use your pestle to amalgamate everything together into a bright red-orange paste.
- You could of course make the whole paste the old-fashioned way from scratch in the mortar and pestle, if you like to punish yourself.
Make the Curry
- In the widest non-stick pan you have (a deep sauté pan is best) fry the curry leaves in a little vegetable oil till their aroma is released. Then add the beef, coconut cream, spice paste and a good smattering of salt. Stir well and let it come to a gentle simmer. Turn the heat down to as low as possible and cook it uncovered for about 3 hours.
- After a few hours the meat should be nice and tender and most of the liquid will have evaporated. This is when the rendang magic starts. If you taste it now it will be under-powered even insipid. You see, to cook a rendang properly you need to do the opposite of braising and brown the meat at the end.
- Crank the heat up to medium so that the meat and aromatics start to fry gently in the fat and the oil released by the meat and coconut cream. Remove the lime leaves at this point as they will become bitter when fried. Turn the meat carefully when it browns on the bottom, this is why you needed to cut big chunks of beef as small pieces will turn to mush.
- For an extra coconut hit, toast the dessicated coconut till light brown, blend it to a fine powder before adding it to the rendang near the end of the cooking.
- When the meat has been well browned and is dark all over your rendang is done. You can eat it now with a fresh chiffonade of lime leaves sprinkled over it but cruelly it tastes much better the next day. So make it the day before you want to eat it and make too much because it freezes really well too.
Pressure Cooker variation: To cut the cooking time use your PC to cook the meat in the coconut cream and spice paste till just tender, drain off the meat and fast reduce the gravy in a wide non-stick pan. Put the meat back into the reduced gravy to brown all over and finish making the rendang in the regular way. Tip: Less coconut cream is needed, just enough to coat the meat and spices. Use only three lime leaves, the regular amount will produce too bitter taste when pressure cooked.