This extravagantly rich and fragrant, dry-braised beef curry is a signature dish of the Minangkabau highlands of West Sumatra in Indonesia, and is also popular throughout Southeast Asia, from Thailand to Sri Lanka and beyond. Traditionally served for special ceremonial occasions or to honour guests, Beef Rendang is ranked among the 'World's 50 Most Delicious Foods'. There are three recognized forms of rendang, each depending on the specific cooking time: a pale, lightly cooked curry known as 'gulai'; a browned but still liquid curry called 'kalio'; and a rich, dry, dark brown dish called 'rendang', the version featured in this recipe. The browned short ribs are slowly simmered in a spiced coconut milk broth for up to four hours until the liquid evaporates and the beef caramelizes in the intensely flavoured rendered coconut and beef oils remaining in the pot. A symphony of intoxicating flavours and aromas, Rendang is a time-consuming dish, but the slow cooking process yields an exquisitely tender, rich dish of delicious complexity.
Browned short ribs with sautéed ginger, lemongrass and kaffir lime leaves
A fragrant paste of puréed fresh ginger, shallots, garlic, ground coriander, turmeric, chilis and salt
cooked over medium heat until much of moisture has evaporated
Coconut milk and palm sugar are added along with the browned short ribs and lemongrass mixture, then partially covered and simmered for 4 hours, stirring every 20 minutes
After one hour of cooking, the Rendang is beginning to colour and the sauce is separating
In the third hour, the short ribs have begun caramelizing and the sauce is reducing
Beef Rendang after 4 hours, the short ribs are glossy and fork tender
4 tbsp vegetable oil
4 lb beef bone-in short ribs, cut into 1 1/2-inch pieces
4 stalks lemongrass, white portion only, smashed
8 kaffir lime leaves, finely sliced
2-inch pice of ginger, sliced into fine coins
2 cans of coconut milk
2 tbsp palm sugar
2 tsp ground coriander
1/2 tsp turmeric
2-inch piece ginger, roughly chopped
8 large garlic cloves, roughly chopped
8 large shallots, roughly chopped
4 tbsp chili pepper flakes, to taste
2 tsp salt
Add the spice mixture to a food processor and blend to a smooth paste, scraping down the bowl when necessary, then set aside. Add the vegetable oil to a heavy shallow, wide skillet or pan such as a Le Creuset cast iron casserole, and place over medium high heat until shimmering. Fry the short ribs in batches, allowing each surface to brown before turning. Using tongs, transfer the browned beef from the pan to a large bowl and repeat with the remaining short ribs, then set aside.
Add the lemongrass, lime leaves and ginger to the hot oil in the same pot and fry until fragrant. Transfer to the bowl with the browned beef, leaving the remaining oil in the pot. Turn down the heat to medium low, and add the spice paste. Fry, stirring constantly for about 15-20 minutes, until the mixture becomes fragrant and much of the moisture has evaporated — if the paste begins to stick or burn, reduce the heat slightly and add a splash of cold water. Add the coconut milk and palm sugar to the pot along with the beef and lemongrass mixture and stir well to combine. Turn the heat down to medium low and loosely cover with a lid, allowing some steam to escape. Simmer for 3-4 hours until the meat becomes very tender, stirring every 20-30 minutes.
Towards the last hour of cooking time, you'll notice that the sauce will become darker and the oil will separate and rise to the top. Once the meat is tender and most of the liquid has evaporated, remove the lid and increase the heat. Stir the mixture constantly to prevent it from burning, but cook off as much liquid as possible, keeping in mind that oil does not evaporate, so there will still be a little oil at the bottom of the pan. Alternatively, spoon off a much oil from the pan and serve the fork tender short ribs with the remaining sauce, which is the path I chose.
The rendang is done when there is almost no sauce left and the meat is dark brown. Ideally you'll let this sit overnight for the flavours to evenly distribute into the meat. During this time, the meat will turn chocolate colored and the flavours will deepen. Serve the beef rendang with steamed or fragrant coconut rice.
Indonesian Yellow Coconut Rice
1 cup jasmine rice
1 1/2 cups water
1 50g packet coconut milk powder
3 kaffir lime leaves, crushed
1 tsp turmeric
1/2 tsp salt
3/4 tsp sugar
Combine all of the ingredients in a saucepan over high heat. Bring to a boil then cover and turn the heat to low, allowing the rice to simmer for 12 to 15 minutes until all the liquid has been absorbed. Remove from heat and rest for 5 to 10 minutes. Fluff with fork and serve with the Rendang.