Ramblings from a voracious eater on the dish that made her day
|Beef rendang and green beans with prawns and coconut|
‘It’s England v France on Saturday, can we host the match?’ he asks. It’s rugby season. The Six Nations is about to begin. I can tell he wants to cook beouf bourguignon (or to be patriotic, beef stew).
I’ve got other ideas. I’ve a craving for spices and chilli and put my case in for Nonya food from Malaysia. I have in mind the deep, complex textures of beef rendang; pieces of beef shin cooked down in coconut milk until tender and spiced with the flavours of South-East Asia: lemongrass, galangal, chilli… ‘Indulge me,’ I plead.
‘Okay, but what’s that got to do with England (or France for that matter)?’
‘I suppose there is Rory and Tony Underwood…’
Rory Underwood was a rugby hero of mine when I was younger, the England wing whose Malaysian-Chinese heritage made our family proud whenever he was on the pitch. He reminded me of my older brother, my other rugby hero (though only for about three years, and on a cold, Hertfordshire school pitch). When both he and his brother Tony played for England, the camera would pan onto their diminutive mother, who fiercely cheered at the sides. We adored her in our household, and enjoyed the incongruity of stern Chinese mother letting rip at a rugby match.
And so the conversation goes on and the ‘Underwood menu’ is born: beef rendang, green beans in a light prawn and coconut sauce, and tamarind chicken. At kick-off, the rendang is ready; each piece coated with four hours of flavour. It’s had a lot of oven love.
England loses. By a sliver of a breath. The room is inconsolable. There’s only one thing to do, and that’s to tuck into seconds.
|Bruising the rendang spices before putting in the spice grinder|
Beef Rendang (serves 8-10)
In the past, I’ve cooked rendang with more spices – star anise, cinnamon, cardamom. This time I used a recipe from ‘The New Mrs Lee’s Cookbook: Nonya Cuisine’ as a base, which calls for minimal spices. I've also adapted proportions and cooking time (her recipe calls for boiling for 30 minutes, but the shin would be toughened by rapid cooking).
3 onions, sliced
1.8kg beef shin, diced
3 x 400ml cans of coconut milk
3 slices of tamarind block soaked in 400ml boiling water, then paste squeezed through a sieve (available from Chinese supermarkets)
2 handfuls of dessicated coconut – toasted in a dry pan until light brown. These give texture to the tender pieces of shin
2 tablespoons palm sugar
In the spice grinder: rendang spice paste
12 slices galangal
12 slices ginger
12 cloves garlic
6 red chillies (usually made with 15 dried chillies, but I only have fresh ones)
3 stalks lemon grass (white part only)
3 tablespoons ground coriander
1 and ½ teaspoons ground cumin
Preheat the oven to 160C or 140C (fan oven).
Bruise and roughly chop the rendang paste ingredients, before either pounding (hard work) or spice grinding into a paste.
In a big heavy bottomed pan, add the spice paste and the rest of the ingredients. Stir to make sure every piece of beef is mixed well with the coconut milk.
Half cover the pan with a lid and stew in the oven for 2 hours. Bring up to the stove top and skim the fat off with a spoon. It’s worth doing this as there will be a lot.
Bubble for another 1-2 hours on a medium heat until a third of the gravy is left. Stir frequently to avoid the stew sticking to the bottom of the pan. The stew should be quite dry and change colour to a deep deep brown.
Serve with rice.
Other rendang recipes
Feast to the World contends that rendang doesn’t have coconut milk or tamarind in it. I look forward to trying his recipe here.
For another variation, here’s a recipe for ox cheek and venison rendang.