...in a cookery book about Indonesia’s regional foods published in 1967 by the then agriculture ministry titled Mustikarasa, rendang is a method of preparation in which the ingredients are cooked without any oil. So when the young man gets homesick he would eat some rendang and offer it to his new friends, popularizing the dish among non-West Sumatran people...
I was recently asked "Which spice paste should I buy to make Beef Rendang?".
I scoured the filing cabinet of culinaria lodged in the dark recesses of my brain's pantry. A drawer popped out and the file slid open to Ayam Brand and Asian Home Gourmet. But my conscience swaggered in and patronisingly said "Why use a packet when it is so easy to cook?". For a heartbeat I paused, then pushed my conscience behind a pile of eco-bags, bit my tongue and suggested Ayam brand.
The next day while looking at an immaculately marbled tray of beef ribs from Mt Bellevue, my conscience sang in full cry: "Rahn-dung, ramma-lama-rendang!". But this time I did not demur. Obligingly I fished out my mortar and pestle, fresh Asian aromatics and dispatched Mr Stickyfingers to procure a Kaffir lime leaf from the garden. Out too came the pressure cooker, because I didn't have the luxury of time.
The rempah - spice paste - came together quickly in the stone mortar and pestle and the smell was so heavenly that I carried it over to Mr S for a sniff. The beef ribs were cleaved into bite sized chunks and browned in the new Scanpan. I was still gloating over the fact that I had saved $230 on that purchase and everything was now being cooked in it from Char Kway Teow to Pine Forest Mushrooms.
The browned meat went into the pressure cooker and after heating the rempah, that too went in along with coconut milk. Then I left the pressure cooker to do its magic. In twenty minutes it was ready, a moist, melt in the mouth consistency and all the sauce was almost dry and coating the meat. Fabulous.
In went a cup of dessicated coconut, which soaked up the oil from the meat and thickened any viscous dregs of curry. I plated it up beside roti and sambal kangkung. We ate. The rendang was succulent and so aromatic, with a sure fire kick of heat from the chilli. Better than any packet sauce, the flavours were clear and intense, with significantly less oil in the mix. The leftovers were even better a couple of days later.
My inner voice was right. I can understand why West Sumatrans ate it when homesick. Like a stirring memory of a beloved, it tickles the conscience and fills your senses with such utter delight that you just have to share it.
Rendang, although common in Malaysia and popular in Singapore, is an Indonesian dish from Padang in West Sumatra. It was originally brought to Malaysia by the Minankabau who migrated there to build a new life.
A matriarchal people numbering about four million, they are said to be the largest ethnic group in Indonesia. Eschewing male dominance and competition, their ethic promotes cooperation. One of their many maxims goes thus:
'One must nurture growth in humans, animals, and plants so that society will be strong.'
Here-here! What better than to nurture with spicy rendang?
(Chicken and goat meat work equally well in this dish)
5mm Turmeric root - grated
2cm Lemongrass stalk - chiffonade
2cm Ginger root - grated
2cm Galangal root - grated
2 medium sized cloves garlic
2 nasty little fiery hot chillies
2 medium sized shallots
1 Kaffir Lime leaf - chiffonade
1 large pinch of salt flakes
Juice of 1 lime and pulp
500g beef - cut into bite sized chunks (topside/chuck/ribs/gravy beef )
250ml coconut cream
1 cup of toasted dessicated coconut
Grind all aromatics in a mortar and pestle or blender with the salt until a paste is made. If using a blender you may need to add a splash of coconut milk to assist the forming of the paste. Heat paste in frypan until fragrant and place in a pressure cooker.
Brown meat the a frypan and drain off any fat. Place in pressure cooker with the rempah. Over low heat mix the two and add coconut milk, stirring until thoroughly incorporated. Seal pot and cook under pressure for about 20minutes.
Release pressure and check the meat. It should be falling off the bone and the sauce should be reasonably dry. If necessary add a splash more coconut milk or water to loosen the mixture. Stir in toasted dessicated coconut and serve with roti or coconut rice.