it is the day after christmas. the house may still be in disarray. the tree is still merrily lit, the cheerful excitement lingers in the air. it's a magical time. it's a time i've always enjoyed, despite coming down from the holiday high. because now the pressure is gone, the frenzy is over. instead in its place is a peacefulness, and if you're lucky, a quiet joy that warms you to your toes. the new year is looming. there is hope. there is purpose.
i attempted this beef rendang again, this time with all the proper ingredients. this time i waited for the flavors to meld into one another. this time dw or i stirred the pot every 15 minutes accordingly, gently coaxing the colors to develop. this time we ate the meal the next day. because this dish is best as a leftover, a day after thing.
the hints of clover & cinnamon may bring warmth, but the use of thai chilis adds a pleasant layer of heat beneath it all. the use of keffir leaves and lemongrass gives the dish a depth that i did not have previously, one that i don't think i could be without again. it is a dry curry but the bits of dried paste provide extra flavor to the white rice.
adapted from Cradle of Flavor: Home Cooking from the Spice Islands of Indonesia, Malaysia, and Singapore by James Oseland
For the Flavoring Paste:
note: i made this exact recipe and put half the paste in the freezer for later use.
1 whole nutmeg, cracked open with a nutcracker or a heavy, blunt object such as the bottom of a glass measuring cup
8 whole cloves
1 medium onion, coarsely chopped
3 cloves garlic, coarsely chopped
5 thai chilis, stemmed and coarsely chopped
1 TBL ground turmeric
1 piece fresh ginger, 2 inches long, peeled and thinly sliced against the grain
1 piece fresh or thawed, frozen galangal, 2 inches long, peeled and thinly sliced against the grain
For the remainder of the dish:
1 LB organic, grass-fed beef tenderloin
1 can unsweetened coconut milk + 1/2 can of water
3 thick stalks fresh lemongrass, each tied into a knot
1 piece cinnamon stick, 4 inches long
7 whole fresh or thawed, frozen kaffir lime leaves
1 teaspoon kosher salt
To make the flavoring paste, place the nutmeg and cloves in a small food processor and pulse until ground to a dusty powder, about 2 minutes.
Add the onions, garlic, chiles, turmeric, ginger, galangal, and almonds to the ground spices. Pulse until you have a chunky-smooth paste the consistency of cooked oatmeal.
In a 12-inch skillet (nonstick works best), mix the beef and the flavoring paste until well combined. Add the coconut milk, lemongrass, cinnamon, whole lime leaves, and salt. Stir well to combine and bring to a gentle boil over medium heat. Immediately reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer uncovered at a slow, steady bubble, stirring every 10 to 20 minutes with a spatula to prevent the meat and coconut milk from sticking and scorching. You'll probably need to adjust the heat periodically to maintain an even simmer.
The meat, coconut milk, and flavoring paste will now go on a fascinating journey. At first, the broth will be thin and gorgeously bright orange. As it cooks, the coconut milk will reduce, its fats (as well as the fat the meat renders) separating from the solids. It will become progressively thicker and darker, eventually turning brown. Continue to simmer gently until the liquid has reduced by about 95 percent, stirring every 15 minutes or so to prevent sticking. Only the meat, oils, and a bit of very thick sauce will remain in the pot. This will take anywhere from 2 to 3 hours, depending on the skillet that you use, how hot the fire is, and the richness of the coconut milk. Test the meat; it should be tender enough to poke easily with a fork. Taste some of the liquid for salt, and add a pinch more if needed.
When all the liquid has evaporated, reduce the heat to low (the meat and the remaining sauce are prone to burning) and allow the beef to brown slowly in the rendered fat. (The fat may be foamy at this point, but it will settle down when the cooking stops.) Stir every 5 minutes or so to prevent sticking and scorching, being careful not to break the beef apart. Continue sautéing the beef until it's the color of roasted coffee beans, 5 to 10 minutes longer. The surface of the beef should be barely moist and have an appetizing oily sheen. (If there is too much oil in the pan for your liking, skim some of it off with a spoon and set aside for later use; it's wonderful for sautéing potatoes.)
Remove and discard the cinnamon, lemongrass, lime leaves, and then transfer the beef to a serving dish. (Alternatively, serve this dish with all the aromatics, for a more rustic presentation.) Allow the beef to rest for at least 30 minutes before serving. Slightly warm room temperature will best show off its intensely aromatic flavors. This dish will taste even better the next day.