Inspiration / Food & Wine

A Kind of Beef Rendang


Steve Farrow Steve Farrow / 19 June 2020

This week's recipe is a bit more of an investment in time than some I've offered up, but I really do think it's worth the little extra to make this exotically fragrant curry. It is based on a classic Indonesian rendang with one or two tweaks to the basic recipe, and a change from the classic cooking method, adding star anise and a touch of clove for the extra aromatics they bring to the party, and as such, it may not seem a particularly summery dish, but I think Indonesia is generally a bit warmer than here and it's one of their five national dishes, so that settles that!

The name rendang comes from a longer Indonesian word meaning to slow cook, and there's no getting away from the fact that this is a slow cook. But, boy, those aromas as it cooks, and the flavour that rewards the patience you've shown! And, despite its spice, aromas and richness, it can match beautifully with plenty of wines, which is more than a bonus in my book. It is, in a word, rendangalangadingdong... sorry, I'll get my sarong.

A Kind of Beef Rendang


(serves 4 with rice)

Beef Rendang
  • 2 lemongrass stalks, dry outer leaves removed, roughly chopped
  • 2 medium-sized onions, quartered
  • 3 garlic cloves, peeled
  • 25g/1oz fresh root ginger, peeled and roughly chopped
  • 50g/2 oz piece galangal, peeled and roughly chopped (if you can't get galangal, use more ginger to the same amount)
  • 3-4 red chillies, roughly chopped (you can use more, or less, it's up to you, as is whether you deseed them or not)
  • 3 tbsp vegetable/sunflower oil
  • 1kg/2.2lbs beef braising steak/chuck steak/skirt/shin, trimmed of as much external fat as possible and cut into 2.5cm/1inch cubes. Any cut of beef requiring slow cooking will do well here, as will lamb
  • 400ml/14fl oz can coconut milk
  • 4 fresh kaffir lime leaves (use dried if you can't get fresh, or the zest of two limes – you'll use the juice of one later in the recipe and can use the second cut in to wedges for squeezing)
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 1 tbsp ground cardamom (or four cardamom pods crushed)
  • 1 tsp ground turmeric
  • 2 whole star anise
  • 4 cloves, ground (or ½ tsp ground clove)
  • 1 tbsp brown sugar or palm sugar
  • 2 tsp tamarind paste or freshly squeezed juice of 1 lime (see above)
  • 2 tbsp dark soy sauce
  • Salt and ground black pepper to season
  • Handful of fresh coriander
  • Crispy fried onions to garnish (optional, and if I'm honest, I bought these)


In a food processor put the lemongrass, onions, garlic, ginger, galangal (if using) and chillies. Blend to a fine paste.

Heat the oil in a large flame-proof casserole and fry the paste gently for 3-4 minutes, stirring constantly. Add the turmeric, cardamom, ground clove and the star anise and cook for a couple of minutes.

Add the beef to the casserole and stir well to coat in the paste and spices. Cook until the beef is lightly coloured, turning it regularly. Add the coconut milk and 400ml/14fl oz cold water (I use the empty coconut milk tin). Add the lime leaves (or lime zest if using), cinnamon stick, cardamom, turmeric, star anise, clove, sugar or palm sugar, tamarind paste or lime juice, soy sauce and a pinch of salt, and bring the mixture up to a boil before reducing to a gentle simmer.

Reduce the heat to very low and put a lid on the casserole for the next 40 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove the lid and simmer gently uncovered for between two and three hours. Stir regularly to avoid the mixture sticking. It's difficult to be precise on time as it depends on the beef, and my last test run took 3 ½ hours for the beef to become meltingly tender, but that was unusual. Trust me it's worth it! What you are aiming for is for the beef to be on the verge of falling part it is so tender. By then the sauce should have thickened to little more than a glossy, very aromatic coating. Once the sauce is thick and the meat tender add the ground black pepper and, if you think it needs it, a pinch of salt. At the end, gentle stirring is important, as you don't want the sauce to stick. If you prefer a little more sauce just add a splash or two of water as you go along. Once cooked through, season to taste with more salt and freshly ground black pepper.

Fish out the cinnamon stick and star anise and the cardamom pods if you can find them (I love cardamom but hate biting into a pod when eating! If you enjoy keep them in).

Serve the curry sprinkled with the crispy onions and chopped coriander leaves, with a wedge of lime and alongside some jasmine or sticky rice, or basmati rice and some stir-fried spring greens or the like.

As with so many slow-cooked casseroles, this is probably even better the following day and takes any stress out of the timings if cooked a day ahead. All I would say is, if you do keep it overnight, then heat it and stir it gently so as not to break up the very tender meat, while making sure it is hot.

You can also make this using the leftovers of a joint, but obviously it then becomes quite a speedy supper but won't have the depth of flavour or aromatics that a long, slow cook provides.

Wine Recommendations:

This is very rich, very aromatic and a bit spicy, depending on how you went with the chillies. During our test eating of the dish (it is a very dirty job, but I do it nobly and with good heart) a surprise hit was the balance of ripe fruit and freshness in a rosé. It was a punt that worked a treat. Try the full-flavoured Basilicata Rosato Le Ralle, Alovini 2019 or the ever food-friendly and more powerful Tavel Cuvée Prima Donna Rosé, Domaine Maby 2019.

For whites, consider the aromatic spice of Gewurztraminer, Cave de Turckheim 2018, or the peachy McManis Viognier 2018.

In the reds department the clove, star anise and meat all work comfortably with generosity and spice in a wine, so think big and pair this with another McManis wine, the McManis Family Lodi Petite Sirah 2018, the ripely plummy The Society's Exhibition Rapel Merlot 2017, the vibrant but ripe Costières de Nîmes La Ciboise, Chapoutier 2018, the lush dark fruit of OMG, Lisboa 2016. Or look 'just off the beaten track' to the chocolatey, peppery generosity of Full Moon Durif 2019.

Sherry lovers may or may not be surprised to hear that this can be a great match too (given the wine's versatility), providing the chilli element isn't too strong. Go for full, medium-dry styles like Romate Don José A Selection of Oloroso Medium Dry or a Palo Cortado style.

Finally, but by no means last, think of one of our cold, craft beers to refresh the palate, like the Faith Pale Ale, Northern Monk Brew Co., or The Society's English Lager.

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