Beef Rendang or rendang daging, in Malay/Indonesian, is a curry fit for a King. It’s a curry with meltingly tender beef that’s been slow cooked in a rich, aromatic and highly spiced coconut gravy that will keep you coming back for more.
Oliver and his bowl of porridge will have nothing on you! Is it any wonder then, that along with the Singapore Chilli Crab, it consistently makes it into CNN’s top 50 foods to eat, even making it to number one from time to time.
It is a recipe that is synonymous with celebrations and festive occasions in Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia and Brunei.
Where does Beef Rendang Come From?
Originally from Indonesia, going as far back as the 15th century, beef rendang started out life very humbly; it was a method to cook down and preserve tough buffalo meat, the privilege of the rich in the villages of West Sumatra, Indonesia, where it is said to have originated.
The buffalo meat rendang daging would be packed in banana leaves and taken on the frequent long, arduous journeys that many workers would embark on, in their quest for new jobs in nearby cities and villages. It would keep up to 4 weeks, apparently.
Is Beef Rendang also a Malaysian recipe?
As much as the Indonesians hate it, beef rendang has long been adopted and considered a local dish by the Malays in Singapore and Malaysia.
Traditionally, no Malay wedding is complete without beef rendang, or rendang daging as we would call it in Malay, just as no Hari Raya (Eid) table is quite right without this most regal of dishes. Mine certainly isn’t. At Christmas, we can’t do without a homemade Christmas pudding, at Eid, we can’t do without beef rendang!
What makes Beef Rendang so special?
In my opinion, it’s the combination of spices and aromatics and the low and slow cooking. Galangal, ginger, lemongrass – these 3 aromatics alone are enough to spike any recipe. But add to that, we have coconut milk as well as the toasty and caramel-like kerisik.
Folks, this is foodie heaven, I’m tellin’ ya!
The result is a creamy, yet full-bodied, potent, and highly perfumed dish that will enslave you from your very first mouthful.
Nay, from your very first sniff!
Traditional Beef Rendang Recipe
So many of my childhood recipes had their beginnings in my granny’s kitchen. However, this beef rendang recipe (resepi rendang daging) belongs firmly with my mother. She was a nurse until she retired, and was also a well known recording artist in her late teens and 20s.
I looked high and low for an old photo of my mum singing, but no luck, of course they are all at the back of everything up in the loft! As soon as I dig one out, I’ll add it here. Here’s an old pic of hers, courtesy of my nephew in Singapore.
I have distinct memories of cooking this with her when it was just the two of us in our apartment (our family was always all over the place!). The method of cooking this beef rendang is something she learnt from her aunt in Ipoh, Perak (Malaysia), where the popular royal Rendang Tok is said to have originated.
Beef Rendang Recipe
- Basically, in our recipe, there’s no initial sautéeing involved.
- We just place everything into a saucepan or a Dutch oven, and let it cook away on low heat for a good 2 1/2 to 3 hours.
- At 3 hours, you will have meat that’s practically falling apart, which is the hallmark of a good beef rendang.
- You can also stop cooking earlier, as long as the meat is cooked, for a wetter curry.
That is another thing about beef rendang – to each his own is carried to another level with this curry, while still respecting the boundaries.
Beef Rendang Ingredients
Some dishes just call for difficult to find ingredients that you cannot substitute for and hope to recreate the same dish. And this is one of them.
Galangal (lengkuas in Malay)
Click to read more. The curry won’t work as well without it, I’m afraid. Please do not listen to any silly advice about increasing the ginger to compensate. Ginger is citrusy and spicy, while galangal is floral and sweet. Seriously different aromas.
In the UK, galangal paste is fairly easy to come by in larger supermarkets like Waitrose and Sainbury’s.
Click here to read more. As mentioned above, this is just diy dry roasted/toasted desiccated coconut. But be sure to get desiccated coconut without any sugar added, and ideally, no preservatives.
Turmeric Leaves (daun kunyit in Malay)
Click here to read more. Turmeric leaves have a grassy and citrusy constitution that is the defining aroma of an authentic Singaporean and Malaysian beef rendang. Outside of Asia, they are probably not easy to come by but the good news is, if you have access to fresh turmeric, then you can grow them yourself! As long as the weather is warm.
In the winter, when I don’t have any turmeric leaves around (they don’t dry or freeze well), I resort to kaffir lime leaves, which I always have plenty of, as my plant is a bit of a monster. Kaffir lime leaves are not a substitute for turmeric leaves but they are an acceptable alternative.
EDIT Jan 2020: My turmeric leaves are still flourishing in the dead of winter. Amazing! Look out for a Vegan Rendang, by popular demand.
Chillies (chili peppers)
This is traditionally a spicy curry. But you can cut those dried red chillies right down for a milder version. I always make 2 separate lots, one a fairly spicy version, the other, a very mild one, for the younger kids.
Speaking of ingredients, beef rendang offers some latitude in the spices that you can use to cook it. Some cooks will make it more curry-ish, adding cumin and cinnamon to the mix. Others leave all these spices out, no coriander and turmeric either, as in my recipe here. Some will add tamarind (asam), for just that bit of sour and some will add gula melaka, or palm sugar for an extra hint of caramel, along with the kerisik. I must confess, that I chop and change sometimes too!
Ground ingredients in Beef Rendang
You do need a chopper or blender for this to work best. Add the ingredients in the order that they’ve been listed, giving the earlier ingredients (the more fibrous ones) a better opportunity to be ground to a finer stage.
Coconut Milk – always cook on a low heat when cooking with coconut milk. Otherwise, your milk will split, even the canned variety with stabilisers can be temperamental sometimes.
Can you use other meat to make Rendang?
Absolutely, just substitute it, pound for pound. In fact, chicken rendang, or rendang ayam is also a very traditional dish in these countries.
How to Serve Beef Rendang
Given that it is a very rich curry, whatever accompaniments you have will lean towards, erm, lean.
- Nasi minyak, which is the Malay equivalent of pilau rice, is a very traditional accompaniment to beef rendang.
- Plain steamed rice or flatbreads, are also another great way to serve this beef rendang.
- Another starch that is popular with rendang daging is Roti Jala, a lacy pancake that is simplicity itself and that I’ve been meaning to blog for a long, long time. My sister in law even got me the contraption to make it the last time they visited from Singapore, about 3 years ago! So, again, watch this space.
- Lemang is the perfect recipe for to go with our Beef Rendang! Lemang is glutinous rice that’s traditionally cooked in banana leaf lined bamboo poles. While in Malaysian and Indonesian villages, families may cook it themselves, it has long been something most folks buy at food stalls, and especially night markets.
The recipe here is my version of it, without using the impossible-to-get bamboo poles for cooking! For all of us who no longer live in the countries we were born in.
- And remember the pachri nenas from a few weeks back? The pineapple salsa? That will go so well with beef rendang, as an accompaniment.
Let’s get our aprons on!
Know someone who loves Rendang but has gone vegetarian? Check out my Vegan Rendang with Potatoes and Tofu, a very adaptable recipe, for tofu haters!
More Singaporean and Malaysian Recipes on LinsFood
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Beef Rendang Recipe (Resepi Rendang Daging)
- 1 kg (2.2lb) generous cuts of braising or stewing beef
- 400 ml (1 3/5 cup) coconut milk
- 250 ml (1 cup) water
- 1 stalk lemongrass (serail) bruised
- 2 large turmeric leaves (daun kunyit) OR 6 kaffir lime leaves
- 1 tsp salt
Ingredients B (to be ground)
Let's prepare the ingredients
- Cut the dried red chillies in 2-3 pieces, depending on their lengths, and soak them in a bowl of hot water for 20 minutes. In the meantime, get all the other ingredients ready.
- Roll your turmeric leaves up and either using a knife or a pair of scissors, cut them up into thin shreds. If using lime leaves, just tear the leaves up.
- Drain and rinse the chillies, and losing the seeds, if you like. Place them aside.
Let's chop up the ingredients into a paste
- Start chopping your ingredients in the order that they are listed in the above list. Start with lemongrass, chop for 10 seconds, then galangal, chop for another 10 seconds, then ginger, then garlic, and so on. Everytime the chopped ingredients start to feel a bit dry, add a quarter of an onion for moisture. No need for water. Continue chopping/blending until you have a fairly fine mix.
Let's get cooking!
- Now get a large saucepan or a dutch oven and place everying in, start with the beef, then the ground ingredients, the coconut milk, the salt, the lemongrass and finally the thinly shredded turmeric leaves or your torn lime leaves.
- Put it on a low heat and let it come to a gentle simmer. Stir to mix everything up, and leave, uncovered, to cook for a minimum of 2 and a half hours to 3, until the beef is meltingly tender and you have a dry-ish curry.
- You shouldn't really need to stir the rendang until the last 30 minutes or so, where you'll have to do it a handful of times, as it starts to dry up and may start to catch on the base. Check seasoning and add more salt if you think it needs it.
- Serve as suggested above. The beef rendang will keep, covered, for a week in the fridge.