Rendang was voted most delicious food in the world by more than 35,000 readers of CNN Travel in a poll on Facebook in 2011.
Our virtual trip to Indonesia therefore had to feature this dish from the Province of West Sumatra. Many of the recipes that we have been featured on 196 flavors are also included in this list. The delicious nasi goreng, also from Indonesia is in second place, pad thai in fifth place and the soto ayam salad in sixth position to name a few.
Sumatra is the island that was the most affected by the tsunami of which we commemorate the sad tenth anniversary this week. Aceh, the province nearest to the earthquake is indeed a bit further north on the island. I remember this tragedy vividly as my wife Anne and I were on a 2-week cruise in the Caribbean and were glued to CNN for the last few days of our vacation.
Rendang is a sort of beef curry, simmered for a long time, which allows the meat to soak up all the flavors that make up this unique dish. Depending on the desired end result, cooking rendang in coconut milk and all the spices can be shorter or longer. Classic rendang must be dry enough and should cook for at least 2 to 3 hours. When the curry is cooked for less time, it is a little wet and brown in color, and it is called kalio. When simmered for less time, it is soupy, closer to a Thai curry and is called gulai. It is then typically yellow. Traditional rendang that simmers for hours turns dark brown when it is finished cooking.
The spices and ingredients mixture that is the basis for rendang is called pemasak in Minangkabau. Some of the ingredients that are used have antimicrobial properties. If it is cooked appropriately, dry rendang can often be kept for 3 to 4 weeks at room temperature and up to six months in a refrigerator.
Rendang can be served with white rice, but also ketupat (a kind of pressed rice cake), lemang (sticky rice cooked in hollowed bamboo stick), and vegetables such as cassava leaves or young jackfruit.
Each of the main ingredients used in the making of rendang has cultural and spiritual significance.
– the meat or dagiang symbolizes the clan leaders, nobles, elders.
– the coconut milk or karambia represents the intellectuals, teachers, poets and writers.
– the chili or lado symbolizes religious leaders, the hotness representing the sharia.
– the spice mixture or pemasak represents the rest of the Minangkabau society.
Rendang is a festive dish served at various ceremonies and rituals such as the Muslim holidays of Eid al-Kabīr and Eid al-Fitr. The first mentions of rendang date from the sixteenth century in the famous Malay book Hikayat Amir Hamzah.
In Malaysia, rendang is cooked for less time and is thickened with toasted grated coconut called kerisik. I tried this technique which also added more flavor complexity in addition to a thicker texture.
Rendang is usually cooked with beef but the same technique is used with beef liver, chicken, duck, goat, water buffalo, eel, egg and even fruits and vegetables such as jackfruit or cassava. The generic term for the classic meat rendang is rendang daging, which is the specialty of Padang, the largest city in the province of West Sumatra.
Rendang was one of the best surprises of 196 flavors so far. A few days ago, Vera told us she had never cooked a soup as flavorful as her soto ayam. My rendang included many of the same unusual spices and ingredients as in Vera’s soup, and more.
Starting with galangal, which was also a great discovery for me. A close cousin to ginger root but with lemony aromas as Vera explained to us in her post dedicated to this ingredient.
Then turmeric root. Yes, before being the yellow ground spice that we all know, turmeric is a root. Have a look at my post about this exotic ingredient if you want to learn more.
Kaffir lime leaves were also a great discovery I knew about this very citrus very common in Southeast Asian cuisine but had not cooked fresh leaves yet, only dried ones.
Finally, a less unusual ingredient but quite typical of this cuisine: lemongrass, which is one of the predominant flavors of this dish that we have already used in many recipes on 196 flavors, particularly Asian.
Like many dishes that have spread across regions and were transmitted through generations, there is not just one recipe for rendang, even if some ingredients must be present.
In my version, you will find galangal, turmeric root, kaffir lime leaves, lemongrass, star anise, but also star anise, cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, fennel seeds, cumin seeds, coriander seeds, shallots, garlic, chili pepper, tamarind and palm sugar. Nothing less! And all these flavors are concentrated in this dry but tender meat.
No, rendang is not a difficult dish to make, but it is long and requires preparation and organization to find all the ingredients that are not common in Western kitchens. But you know it by now, even if we happen to publish relatively simple recipes occasionally, it is not on 196 flavors that you will find chocolate cookie or mac ‘n cheese recipes!
- 3 lb beef , cut into chunks
- 5 tablespoons oil
- 2 cups coconut milk
- 5 tablespoons kerisik (grated coconut), toasted and crushed (optional)
- 2 tablespoons pure tamarind extract
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 5 cloves garlic
- 3 star anise
- 4 green cardamom pods
- 1 tablespoon fennel seeds
- 1 tablespoon cumin seeds
- 1½ tablespoon coriander seeds
- 3 stalks lemongrass (white part only), thinly sliced
- 1 (2-inch) piece galangal
- 1 (1-inch) piece ginger
- 10 shallots
- 1 (2-inch) piece turmeric root
- 6 leaves kaffir lime , finely chopped
- 6 cloves garlic
- 10 red hot chili peppers , soaked and seeded
- Palm sugar (to taste)
- Mix all the wet paste ingredients in a blender or food processor.
- In a skillet, toast coriander, cumin and fennel seeds for 2 to 3 minutes, then grind in a spice grinder or using a mortar and pestle.
- Add oil to the skillet, bring the heat to medium-low, add the whole spices and sweat for a few minutes.
- Add the wet paste into the skillet and cook over medium-low heat for 20 to 30 minutes or until the oil begins to separate from the ingredients.
- Add the dry ground spices to the pan and mix with the wet paste.
- Fry for about 5 minutes, being careful not to burn the mixture.
- Add the meat, coat with paste and fry for about 1 minute.
- Add the coconut milk. Bring to a boil then reduce heat to low.
- Simmer very gently uncovered for about 3 hours or until the meat is cooked and the sauce is reduced considerably.
Add kerisik (optional) and tamarind and simmer for another 20 minutes.
- Add salt and palm sugar to taste