Beef rendang requires no introduction. This iconic Indonesian dish originated in Minangkabau, West Sumatra and the provincial capital of Padang, a hub and settlement for traders from China and the Middle East and a rich trading past dating back to the 17th century. If only the crumbling buildings in the old part of the city could talk, what tales they could share from this colourful period in Indonesian history!
The term rendang signifies a specific technique where a dish is boiled for an extended time to reduce the coconut milk, then slow-cooked for over an hour to tenderize the meat. This stage creates a stewed curry known as kalio. To make a classic rendang, the braising liquid must be further reduced. It is then fried over high heat to create rich caramelization and intensified flavour. This luscious and succulent dish is unlike anything you’ve ever tasted.
Rendang is usually made with beef (in the past, people of Minangkabau used buffalo meat), but it can be substituted with goat, lamb, chicken, tempeh or jackfruit. Across West Sumatra, there are many variations on the rendang theme, with baby potatoes and even ferns as the main ingredients. I learned of a meatball rendang from a 70-yearold lady in Payakumbuh, Uni Emi, who keeps local culinary traditions alive. I also sampled eel rendang further north in Lintau, which is prepared with up to 20 types of local leaves. In the rare event that you have any rendang left-over, you’ll discover a greater intensity of flavour the following day. It would be perfect with fresh rice or even in a sandwich. The key to a delectable rendang is the use of coconut milk with at least 19 per cent fat content, which is vital to create the right consistency.
Preparation time: 15 minutes
Cooking time: 2 hours 15 minutes
1.2 litres/40 fl oz (5 cups) coconut milk
1 quantity red spice paste
2 tablespoons tamarind paste
7 makrut lime leaves, torn
2 star anise
2 stalks lemongrass, crushed and tied into a knot
1 (3-cm/1¼-inch) cinnamon stick
1 turmeric leaf (optional)
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
1.2 kg/2 lb 12 oz topside (top round) beef, cut into 2.5-cm/1-inch cubes
Steamed rice, to serve
To prepare the base, combine all the ingredients, except the beef, in a large saucepan or wok and mix well. Add the beef and mix well. Boil for 1 hour, stirring occasionally to prevent the mixture from sticking, until the liquid has reduced by half. Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer for another hour until the meat is tender.
Increase the heat to high. Cook for 12–15 minutes, stirring constantly to prevent the mixture from sticking to the pan, until the liquid has evaporated and the rendang is dark brown and caramelized. Season to taste. Serve with steamed rice.
Meatball Rendang (Rendang Bulat)
Replace the beef with an equal amount of minced (ground) beef. Finely grind 100 g/3½ oz (1¼ cups) roasted desiccated coconut, then combine with 4 finely grated garlic cloves. Combine the beef, coconut and garlic in a food processor and process until smooth. Shape the mixture into 20-g/¾-oz meatballs. Cook the spices and coconut milk over medium-high heat until the liquid has reduced by three-quarters. Add the meatballs and cook for 20 minutes until the liquid has completely evaporated and the rendang is dark brown.