I apologize; I’ve been away for a bit. For the first few days of my post-Christmas vacation I had a humdinger of a cold, and then Jim got it for the next few days, and then I decided that what we needed most—more than anything—was to lie down with each other and snuggle. So we snuggled for the last few days of our vacation. We’re still snuggling, actually, until Monday—Jim’s run out to the post office now and I figured I’d say hi.
When we’ve been able to pull away from each other long enough to get into the kitchen we’ve cooked up some of the best dishes we’ve ever made, though in the name of vacation, haven’t been photographing most of it. They’re all make-agains, so I’m sure you’ll someday hear all about them. For now, you can have one—a (albeit unphotogenic) braised Malaysian beef dish from Molly Stevens’ All About Braising—that we did happen to snap some photos of.
I was certain that this dish wouldn’t come out right; the spice paste was like, whoa intense, punch-you-in-the-nose lemongrass, onion, and chile. Our eyes were tearing up the minute I took the top off the food processor; though once the oil, the beef, and the coconut milk was added, I was sure it would turn out okay—edible, at least.
But then—ohh then—3 1/2 hours later, when everything had cooked down and mellowed and the flavors had married; when the coconut milk turned to curd and the beef was supremely tender and fragrant, I knew that it wouldn’t just be okay, it would be transcendent.
And it was. The flavor is almost indescribable but it’s damn, damn good. None of the overpowering ingredients give so much as a growl in the finished dish—it’s more a purr, a come hither murmur. Paired with some white rice, with some of the fragrant sauce poured over it, I couldn’t have asked for a cozier, more snuggly dish. So if you are hankering for some comfort on these last few days of your winter vacation (sick of Christmas ham and gingerbread), then here’s your dish. And if you want to invite me over for some, I promise I make for a good spoon.
Molly Stevens’ Beef Rendang
from All About Braising
For the spice paste:
- 4-6 dried red chiles, such as chile de arbol
- 2 lemongrass stalks, woody tops, root ends, and outer layers removed, fragrant 4-inch cores coarsely chopped
- 4 small shallots, coarsely chopped (scant ½ cup)
- 2-3 garlic cloves, peeled
- One 2-inch piece of fresh ginger, peeled and coarsely chopped
- One 2-inch piece of fresh turmeric, peeled and coarsely chopped, or ½ teaspoon ground
- One 2-inch piece of fresh galangal, peeled and coarsely chopped (optional—and left out by me)
- Pinch of coarse salt
For the braise:
- 2 tablespoons peanut oil
- 3 whole star anise
- 5 cardamon pods
- 2 cinnamon sticks
- 2½ pounds boneless beef chuck or brisket, but into 1½ to 2-inch cubes
- 1½ teaspoons sugar
- Coarse salt
- 2½ to 3 cups unsweetened coconut milk, or as needed
- 4 fresh kaffir lime leaves (optional—and left out by me)
Combine the chiles, lemongrass, shallots, garlic, ginger, turmeric, and galangal (if using) in a blender, small food processor, or mortar and pestle. Season with salt. Grind the spices to a coarse paste, adding 3 to 4 tablespoons of water as necessary if the flavorings are too dry to grind. Be sure to grind thoroughly; too many fibers or chunk will be unpleasant in the finished dish.
Heat the oil in a wok or large deep skillet over medium-low heat. Add the spice paste and fry, stirring frequently with a wooden spoon, until the paste appears a bit glossy as the oil begins to separate out of it, 3 to 8 minutes. (If you added water to grind the paste, this will take longer.) Add the star anise, cardamon, and cinnamon and stir to combine. Add the beef and stir to coat the meat evenly with the paste. Season with the sugar and a healthy pinch of salt.
Pour in enough coconut milk to just cover the beef and stir to blend the paste into the milk. Bring to a gentle simmer, and braise, uncovered*, until the meat is almost tender, about 2½ hours. Stir the beef every 20-30 minutes, and check that the simmer remains quiet—there should be occasional bubbled but certainly not a torrent. If necessary, lower the heat or place the pan on a heat diffuser The color of the coconut milk will darken to a light milk chocolate color as it absorbs the beef juices.
As the liquid reduces to a thick paste, stir in the lime leaves, if using, and continue braising, monitoring the pan more closely. Eventually a clear oil will separate out from the paste, When this happens, stir more frequently, and then fry the beef in the oil until it becomes mahogany brown, another 45-60 minutes. During this last stage, you may want to retrieve the whole spices when you spy them since you may not want to but down on them unknowingly.
If you’ve used chuck, there will be as much as 1/3 cup clear oil in the pan when the rendang is done; brisket will give off less. Either way, spoon off and discard** as much oil as your care to. Don’t be afrais to leave a bit for flavor. Stir and taste for salt. Serve warm or at room temperature.
*I half-covered the pan for most of the cooking time.
**This oil is delicious drizzled on white rice.