To make a great rendang you need to first understand what a rendang is. It’s a fragrant stew more than a curry, and the aromas of the galangal, ginger and turmeric should be more prominent than the hard spices. Turmeric leaves are more traditional than makrut (kaffir) lime but they are very hard to find in Australia.
2 medium onions or 8 eschallots, peeled and roughly chopped
4 cloves garlic, peeled
2-6 bird’s eye chillies, stalks removed (as you prefer)
5cm each fresh turmeric, galangal and ginger, peeled and roughly chopped
¼ cup vegetable oil or coconut oil
2kg beef short ribs
400ml coconut cream
3 stalks lemongrass, fat stalks only, bruised
6 makrut lime (kaffir lime) leaves
1 piece cassia bark
2 star anise
1 tbsp caster sugar
2 tsp salt
1 cup dessicated coconut
- Combine the onion, garlic, chilli, turmeric, galangal and ginger in a blender and blend to a puree, adding a little water if necessary to help it blend. Heat the oil in a large, heavy casserole dish over medium heat and fry the paste for 15-30 minutes (the more water you add to the paste, the longer you will need to cook it to evaporate the water before it starts to fry), stirring occasionally at the beginning and constantly as it thickens so that it doesn’t splatter or catch on the base of the pan. This paste, known as a rempah, is ready when it is browned, fragrant and thick.
- Add the beef ribs and toss to coat in the rempah. Then add the coconut cream and enough water to barely cover the ribs. Add the lemongrass, 3 of the makrut lime leaves, cassia, star anise, sugar and salt. Bring to a simmer and cover and simmer for about 2-2.5 hours, stirring occasionally until the beef starts to become tender. Remove the lid and simmer for about 1 hour more, stirring occasionally again until the stewing liquid is reduced to a thick, very oily sauce.
- Heat a dry frying pan over low-medium heat and add the coconut. Fry the coconut, stirring constantly until it is a deep golden brown and add the coconut to the rendang, stirring to combine. This caramelised coconut is known as kerisik. Cook for a further 30 minutes or so at simmering heat until deep brown, oily and thick. The rendang can be eaten straight away but will benefit from being covered and left overnight to develop. Finely shred the remaining makrut lime leaves and scatter over the rendang to serve.
Some Extra Tips
Don’t overdo the spices. A rendang should take the fragrances of galangal, turmeric, lemongrass, makrut lime and ginger before being overwhelmed with spices. I put a bit of whole cassia and star anise in mine but I’ve seen recipes that use cumin, coriander etc. There’s nothing wrong with that, but I just don’t think it’s necessary.
Cook everything for a looooong time. Both the rempah and the rendang itself. Like a Spanish soffrito, a rempah takes time to develop flavour. Mine is just blended onion (or shallot), garlic, ginger, galangal, chilli and fresh turmeric. The rendang, too, needs to cook for long enough to crack the coconut cream and reduce down so that beef is essentially frying in the coconut oil.
It’s up to you how wet or dry you want your rendang to be. Some can be as wet as a very thick soup, and others completely dry, almost like jerky. It all depends on how long you reduce the stew for (i.e. how long you cook it uncovered vs. covered), and how long you let if fry in the separated coconut oil.
The kerisik is the key the rendang’s texture. Some recipes don’t include this but it’s mandatory in my opinion. Kerisik is caramelised coconut (toasted dessicated is fine, but historically it’s caramelised coconut meat). It deepens the flavour of the rendang and thickens it as well.
Rendang needs time to mature. Make it a day or two before you want to eat it if you can.
You can make this with other stewing cuts of beef like chuck, or even with lamb shanks.