Rendang terlagi-lagi – the best beef rendang recipe

If there’s only one thing you cook from reading my Malaysian adventures then it has to be beef rendang. Unless, of course, you are a vegetarian or a vegan….because, quite frankly, beef just won’t work for you. Or unless you can’t eat coconut because that, too, would mean the beef rendang just isn’t going to be your thing. But let’s not bother with ‘unless’…let’s focus instead on the most delicious Malaysian recipe ever.

Rendang is an iconic Malaysian recipe – a mouth-filling melange of spices, coconut and slow cooked meat making an aromatic dish that has you longing to eat it again and again. The first friends I made in Malaysia, Roger and King, took me to lunch at Madam Kwan’s where we had her delicious rendang. Her version has the beef slow cooked and shredded and it is rich and delicious so little goes a long way with plain rice. King swore that this was the best rendang in Kuala Lumpur and who was I to argue?

I spent a long time looking for a recipe that would give me the right taste – every cook will have their own version. Eventually I came across (in a small, inexpensive Malaysian cookbook by Betty Saw, from Marshall Cavendish, that cost 9.90 ringgit, that’s just under £2) Rendang terlagi-lagi. ‘Lagi’ in Malay means ‘more’ and I was assured that having eaten this dish people would ask for more….and more. That had to be worth trying.

Now, before we go any further, it’s perhaps worth pointing out that authentic Malaysian cooking doesn’t rely on the kitchen gadgets that make our lives so easy. Most recipes involve spice mixes that are ground…and when they say ground they mean that they been pounded into a juicy rubble with a pestle and mortar.

What also might be worth pointing out is that while pounding produces an authentic roughness to the mix (some bits are pounded more finely than others) the pounding itself is hard physical labour. I have done this in an authentic a fashion as possible but in the interests of getting you to try this, I think it will be perfectly acceptable to use a blender to get the spice mix made. Don’t keep pulverising everything to a smooth paste, though, try and keep a certain roughness to it.

Also, if you are trying this and don’t have access to the same fresh ingredients that I can get here in Kuala Lumpur, don’t worry. Do your best. Supermarkets sell jars of ready prepared ginger, lemon grass and garlic. Use them if you can get them…it will be a lot easier than pounding.

The important thing is that you try to make this. If you like it enough you can always attempt pounding on the next go. Or maybe if you like it enough you can carry on using the prepared spices because that will mean you can make it quickly and easily. Just make it, right?

What you’ll need to make this is first of all 600g (1lb 5 oz) of beef.

The first time I made it was with deep frozen Indian buffalo which is all I could find in the supermarket and the resulting rendang was delicious but tough. Eventually, I found some nice beef cubes that made a deliciously tender rendang. Rendang is not cooked for a long time so try and avoid those cuts that will need hours of slow cooking.

You’ll need some dried chillies (maybe 8 or 10, say) and some thick dark soy sauce (this has a roasted almost caramel taste)

4 stalks of lemon grass (I think that 4 teaspoons of the prepared lemongrass in a jar would be the equivalent); a can of coconut cream ; some tamarind paste; and some kerisik (essentially grated coconut, roasted in a pan until golden brown and then ground finely. I think you could use desiccated coconut instead. It is important you make this, though there’s no real work involved, because it adds a gloriously rich, deep and sludgy level to the sauce surrounding the meat )

The next set of ingredients are classed as the ones that are to be ground – 300g/11 oz shallots, 4 garlic cloves and a 1 inch knob of ginger, peeled.

So, once you have everything assembled, you’re ready for the off. This is really a simple recipe and now I have done this a few times I can prepare it quickly. I make the ground spice mix first and put it in the fridge so I can split the work. If you were using  prepared spices you’ll be able to do this really quickly.

First, cut the beef into strips, maybe a quarter of an inch thick and one and a half inches long.

Fry the beef over a moderate heat in 125 ml/4 fl oz/ half a cup of oil, for 15 minutes.

Take the beef out, leaving the oil in the pan as you’ll need this later.

The beef needs to be pounded lightly while it is still hot – I use the pestle that I used in grinding the spices. Use a steak hammer if you have one….what you are aiming for is a flattening of the pieces of beef, breaking down the meat fibres so they can absorb the flavours better and the beef becomes more tender.

This really is just a light pummelling so don’t go mad and destroy the beef pieces.

Then pour a tablespoon of thick, dark soy over the meat, stirring it round so the pieces get covered, then pop the meat into the fridge for at least an hour. I’ve done this the night before when I have been cooking this for guests and it works out pretty well.

Then, start on preparing the ground ingredients. Either do it with a pestle and mortar or use a blender or use prepared spices. The garlic and shallots and ginger get crushed to a gritty paste. If you use a blender don’t go as far as a smooth mush… part of the joy of this is in the texture of the sauce.

Dried chillies need soaking separately until they are soft and then need pounding or blitzing. It’s easier if you chop them first before pounding them and make sure you keep  your hand over the top of the mortar to keep chilli splashes away from your eyes. I speak from experience.

Fry the ground chillies for two to three minutes in the oil left over from the beef

Then add the ground ingredients (shallots, garlic and ginger and the lemongrass).If you decide to pound the lemongrass first, it’s easier if you chop it into little pieces. Otherwise use the prepared lemongrass in a jar. Fry the mix until it is fragrant and the oil starts to separate out. This will take maybe 8 to 10 minutes over a gentle heat.

Once this is done, add the beef and stir it round well.

Add the coconut cream.

One tablespoon of tamarind paste needs adding to 5 tablespoons of water and stirring round and then strained off, leaving the pulp and stone residue behind. Add that liquid to the beef and stir in. You will probably be able to buy tamarind paste without the seeds in… here, I can’t  get that and I have to sieve out the seeds. You do need the tamarind though because it adds a sharp hint that brightens the deep and satisfying richness of the meat.

Bring everything to the boil and then reduce the heat and simmer gently until the colour has darkened and it is almost dry. In that picture I had just crushed the lenongrass and I had to pick it out later. It’s better when you either use the ready crushed into a paste version or chop it into small pices and then pound the living daylights out of it.

Next you need the kerisik. This is toasted and ground coconut.

I can buy bags of freshly grated coconut  but you could manage with some dessicated coconut, I reckon. My Malay friends think it will be OK, so I’d go along with that.

I dry fry a cup full until it browns

Be careful because it can suddenly go from white to burnt, so do stand and stir and keep checking  while you are roasting and toasting the coconut.

and then I grind it to a fine powder. The first time I did it I used the pestle and mortar….after that I used the Bamix and the spice grinding attachment. Far quicker.

Anyway….add in the kerisik, a teaspoon or so of sugar and some salt to taste. Stir it all in and keep stirring until it begins to look like this….

And that’s it. Taste it. Realise you have made the most delicious rendang…..

I serve it over plain boiled rice that I have added some of the fresh grated coconut to and some chopped coriander.

And then all I do is hope that there will be some left over to either eat the next day or freeze. It is a rich and deliciously tasting meat with layers of flavour becoming apparent as you eat it.

I think this has become one of our favourite Malaysian dishes and when we get back to the UK I will use (because I’ll have to) the shortcuts I’ve told you about. I’ll do anything, really to keep on eating this. It is rich and delicious, spicy but not mouth burningly so and the simple mix of spices blend together to make a complex, mouth-filling in its intensity, taste. It is deeply satisfying.

Try it… try it then tell me what you think of it. I’ve done my best to make it easy for you… now you do your best to make it!

Plate of beef

One of the best things in the world is to be able to spend time with your friends.

And when one of those friends is someone you have known since you were eleven years old, well, it is even better. Let’s just say that more than one decade has passed since we met. We could, in fact, be talking about decades in the plural. Several decades.

Be that as it may, it is J’s birthday on Christmas Eve. This always gives me great joy because for a few short weeks she is, technically, a year older than me. The Bear and I always try to be back for J’s birthday and it is something of a tradition of ours that she and K, her husband, come to stay on Boxing Day.

We cook for them and make it a special night.

I decided to do beef and chose one of the cheapest cuts – plate of beef.  I didn’t choose cheap because I wanted to cut corners and costs, I chose it because it has the most incredible flavour.

Plate of beef is the cut from the cow’s diaphragm muscles, the underneath of the cow, with the rib bones attached. A related cut is beef skirt that I use when I want to make  steak and chips. Plate of beef is fattier and tougher than skirt and the best way to cook it is to let is cook slowly for a long time and make sure you have some liquid to keep it moist.

See the layers, interspersed with fat? They need to be cosseted in a low oven so the fat renders down and turns everything into a soft, juicy and unbelievably flavoursome piece of meat. A braise is a good way of doing it but I wanted it as a slow roasted piece of meat….

That’s a big piece of meat for under £5. The butcher scores the outside so you just need to season it and choose something for the liquid not-quite-braise.

I stand the meat on a rack at first and pour over my favourite marinade – a mixture made with

Lea & Perrins Worcestershire Sauce which gives it a sharper savoury flavour

Some Indonesian Sweet Soy Sauce which adds a rounded sweet flavour

Half a glass of red wine… because, well, why wouldn’t you? 

(The Bear saw me walking across the kitchen with the glass and was horrified at the thought I had turned to drink – it was, after all, quite a bit before midday and I was going to be driving)

A grinding of white pepper finishes it off.

Pour a glass of water into the tin (not over the meat) to keep the moisture levels up and that’s it.

This truly is a delicious marinade for meat – it seems to deepen the meaty flavour and none of the ingredients overpowers the others. It all seems to work really well together. Try it.

I put it in the oven at 1 pm, at 120 degrees C, covered with foil to keep the steam and the delicious juices in and then set off to do other stuff.

When we came back at about 5 pm it all smelled deep and meaty and hinted at juicy, glistening pieces of meat to eat later. The best thing about this cut is that is very forgiving in terms of time.

I took it off the rack and let it lie in the meat juices and marinade, then I just left it as it was until it was ready to finish off.

About an hour before we were ready to eat, I turned the heat up to 175 and took the foil off for the final 30 – 40 minutes.

I set the table and got ready

I was going to make the meal a simple one… just meat and some veg… but it was going to be marvellously tasty meat and veg.

Potatoes were parboiled and drained. If you do this in a colander, give them a good shaking so they roughen a bit and and then throw them into sizzling goose fat . I use a baking tray with an shallow edge on it and put a good two tablespoons of goose fat on it and let it heat up for ten minutes or so before I throw on the potatoes.

If they have had a bit of roughening round the edges, it lets the goose fat get in and make a lovely crispy and crunchy crust. The insides stay beautifully fluffy.  They just need to be turned so they brown all over.

I steamed some carrots and parsnips ( I had prepared too many batons the day before for Christmas lunch, but, kept in the fridge, they were still perfectly fresh and just needed a light cooking) and then tossed them in with the potatoes.

Time to start getting things ready.. so the candles were lit

The meat taken out to rest. The pan was deglazed with another half glass of red wine – it sizzled  and spluttered and the meat juices and marinade turned in a gravy that was so delicious you might be happy drinking it.

The meat looked fantastic.

The champagne was poured and the birthday girl was toasted (while I laughed quietly to myself because I am not as old as she is…… yet!)

And the meat carved into great, luxurious slices of rich and juicy beef…

All I needed to do now is call the birthday girl to the table, and get everyone to join her for her birthday meal

The plate of beef was considered a resounding success – it’s an underused cut and perhaps people think it is tricky to deal with or maybe ordinary and boring. It was easy – a marinade, a slow cooking throughout the afternoon with a final burst of heat to finish it off. The flavour is incredible – rich, deep and complex. The essence of meaty beefiness.

Just because it is inexpensive doesn’t mean it can’t be part of a special dinner.

Find a decent butcher who will sell you this cut and try it yourself. You will be very glad you did.