Spicy beef stew with coconut
While primarily associated with Malaysia and Singapore, spicy beef stew with coconut, or rendang daging, is originally from Indonesia, one often served at ceremonial occasions to guests by the Minangkabau ethnic group. This is not a quick and easy beef stew but one that deserves love and care and patience, especially with regard to grating and toasting the fresh coconut, which is what gives this dish its quintessential taste. But then, this is a meal for special occasions. The good news is that the complex flavours get better the longer you keep it (the Minangkabau keep it for months but overnight in the fridge is enough) and you can make it the day before you need it.
This is not a sloshy stew with plenty of runny gravy or sauce. The aim is to cook it until it is almost dry but still moist.
As classic in Malaysia as fish and chips in Britain, there are almost as many variations on the recipe for spicy beef stew with coconut as there are families who make them, but this here is one of the most authentic.
- 1½ pound boneless beef short ribs, cut into cubes
- 5 tablespoons of cooking oil
- 1 cinnamon stick, about 2-inch long
- 3 cloves
- 3 star anise
- 3 cardamom pods
- 1 lemongrass, cut into a 4-inch length and pounded
- 12 fluid ounces / 340g thick coconut milk
- 12 fluid ounces / 340g water
- 2 teaspoons tamarind pulp, soaked in some warm water for the juice; discard the seeds
- 6 kaffir lime leaves, very finely sliced
- 6 tablespoons fresh, shredded coconut (toasted) or desiccated (see Method, below)
- 1 tablespoon of sugar or palm sugar or to taste
- Salt to taste
- 5 shallots
- 1 inch galangal
- 3 lemongrass, white part only
- 5 cloves garlic
- thumb-sized piece of fresh ginger
- 10-12 dried chilies, soaked in warm water and de-seeded
First, take the fresh, shredded coconut and dry toast it in a wok or non-stick saucepan on a medium heat, stirring continuously until it is golden brown all over. Then, pound it in a pestle and mortar, or blend it in a spice mill, to release the fragrance and oils. If you don’t have fresh coconut, you can use desiccated coconut, but the dry toasting time will be shorter.
Chop the spice paste ingredients and then blend them in a food processor until fine.
Heat the oil on a medium heat in a suitable saucepan or casserole, add the spice paste, cinnamon, cloves, star anise, and cardamom pods and stir-fry them until aromatic.
Add the cubed beef and the pounded lemongrass and stir well for one minute.
Then, add the coconut milk, tamarind juice, and water, and simmer on a medium heat, stirring frequently until the meat is almost cooked.
Now add the kaffir lime leaves, the toasted coconut, the sugar or palm sugar, stirring well to blend with the meat.
Lower the heat to low, cover the lid, and simmer for 1–1½ hours or until the meat is really tender and the gravy has dried up.
Finally, add salt to taste. If not sweet enough, add more sugar to taste.
Serve this with steamed rice. Any saved overnight will taste even better the next day when re-heated.