There is nothing more satisfying in this world than the sound of minced garlic and finely diced onions hitting a hot frying pan, anyone who disagrees with this statement is clearly deranged and it’s in your best interest to immediately cut such “people” from your life. Trust me on this one.
The sultry hiss, the pungent aroma wafting through the air, it’s simply divine. On par with a good lay, a human being with any inkling of a soul will find themselves habitually sighing in blissful satisfaction of a job well done. Whether you’re into cooking or just eating, there is to some degree, an innate, primal if you will, sense of passion that is elicited through food. Food is something we can all get behind, and when we throw Malaysian food into the mix, well now we’re talking a whole new ball game. A category of euphoria entirely its own.
Chock-full of fatty, creamy goodness, Malaysian food is certainly not a waist-friendly cuisine. But let’s be serious for a second here, what’s a life worth living if there’s not a bit of indulgence to be had every now and again?
Now that I’ve sufficiently wasted time going on about why food is so fabulous, I’ll get into the real purpose of this article: to share with the world, or I guess whoever actually reads this blog, the wonder that is rendang. This shit has healing properties, I swear.
Okay seriously, rendang. If you haven’t guessed by now, it’s one of my most favourite Malaysian classics. Traditionally prepared with either chicken, beef or lamb, this exquisite slice of heaven is basically a bunch of Asian spices thrown into a vat of bubbling oil and coconut milk. More to the point, rendang is the “girl next store” of Malaysian dishes: seemingly innocent and sweet, but seriously spicy.
Not too long ago, I had the privilege of learning how to prepare this goddess of a dish from the Queen herself—Auntie Lokman. She seriously slays at anything she throws into a frying pan, but I asked her if she could specifically divulge her beef rendang secrets with me. I am forever in her debt.
If you’d like to enlighten your family and friends, I will now share with you the rendang making process. Spiritual rendang-rain-dance is optional, but is highly recommended for optimal results.
Here’s what you’re going to need.
- Lemon grass
- Turmeric leaf (optional)
- Fresh turmeric
- Fresh ginger
- Coconut milk
- Tamarind (fresh or in paste form)
- Chili (pureed)
- Sugar (palm if available)
Getting the ingredients.
Half the fun of making rendang is shopping for and preparing the ingredients. Game faces on, Auntie and I pop on over to the Malaysian version of a Costco for everything we need to put together this delectable Asian delight. Now, when I say Costco, it’s really only because they sell bulk food. Otherwise, it’s entirely different than what you would envision a Costco to look like.
Mounds of fresh, leafy greens of the watercress variety, chalky, miss-matched turmeric roots, and sea creatures of all shapes and sizes line the shelves, invigorating your senses while you sift through a tub of fresh chilies to find the perfect bunch.
I’m of the belief that truly enjoying a meal begins with an appreciation of the ingredients. The calming nature of basking in the sweet aroma of lemongrass, as I chat with fellow shop-goers; the strong bite I feel on my tongue when I taste-test the sour, almost smoky flavour of fresh tamarind. That cool, rough feeling of fresh fish that comes from methodically weighing it out by hand, all the while pantomiming with soulful speculation like I’m some sort of modern day Julia Child.
Some people get their kicks from binge watching movies or running 100 km marathons (crazy people, mind you), but not me. I can hear those little creative voices screaming in my head with ideas every time I pick up a dead fish or a bunch of cilantro. Life is beautiful, isn’t it?
Now that we’ve got our ingredients, and I’ve sufficiently touched every item imaginable in the local supermarket, Auntie and I head for the kitchen to start preparing our feast.
Putting it all together.
First things first, filleting and tenderizing your protein. We decided to go with beef, but feel free to use whatever type of protein you would like. Cut up your beef into bite-sized chunks. Sprinkle it with a bit of salt, pepper, and drizzle some olive oil on it, then set it aside to hang out while you chop up the rest of your ingredients.
Next, move on to dicing your onion, garlic, fresh ginger, lemon grass, and turmeric. Heat up a large, deep frying pan and sauté a bit of the garlic and onion with oil. After a couple of minutes, toss in your beef and brown the outside of the meat.
Meanwhile, pop some fresh chilies, along with the diced garlic, onion, ginger, turmeric, and lemon grass, into a food processor with a bit of water. Puree the concoction until it’s a smooth paste.
Once your paste is ready and your meat is browned, pour in your coconut milk and add your paste. Pop in a turmeric leaf or two, a few pieces of tamarind, palm sugar (or regular sugar), and salt to taste.
Anyone who knows me, would know that I don’t like to cook using a recipe, and that’s probably the reason why I get on with Malaysian cuisine so well. It’s all about cooking with passion. Using your senses to guide you, rather than a series of measuring cups and instructions.
In that regard, rendang is more of a respect for food than a recipe. It’s an appreciation of the ingredients—acknowledging where and how that fillet of beef came to be on your kitchen counter. It’s an understanding of how spices and textures come together to create something sensational, something that will bring families and friends together.
As Auntie Lokman would say, “you must cook with love or don’t cook at all.”
And those, my friends, are words to live by.