Beef Rendang and the Case of the Invisible Sauce

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Don’t think of this amazing Indonesian beef curry as not having a sauce, think of it as not needing a sauce. By the way, it has a sauce – you just can’t see it. Flavorless water evaporates when you reduce a pan sauce, like we’re doing here, but fat doesn’t, nor does flavor, which is what makes this such a unique, and deliciously addictive dish.

Originally the recipe was developed as a way to preserve meat in hot and humid Indonesia, which is why it was cooked until dry. The lack of moisture, along with all these naturally antimicrobial ingredients meant you could keep this around for weeks without it spoiling, and apparently people enjoyed the taste and texture so much, they continued making it this way long after refrigeration was available.

Having said that, if you do want some sauce to serve with it, simply add more water during the cooking, or cover for part of the time, and you’ll be all set. Which reminds me, if you do cook this the day before, as recommended, you’ll want to add a big splash the water to the pan when you reheat it. Add some water, cover it, and when you think it’s heated through, uncover, crank the heat, and cook until it reaches your desired degree of dryness.

The ingredient list below does contain a few semi-exotic items, so I’ve added what to substitute with in parentheses, but all in all most of these things should not be that hard to find, especially online. But whether you make a few substitutions or not, I really do hope you give this intensely flavorful, and invisibly-sauced beef rendang a try soon. Enjoy!



Ingredients for 4 large portions Beef Rendang:
4 shallots, sliced (or red onion)
6 garlic cloves
1.5 inch piece fresh ginger, peeled, sliced
1.5 inch piece galangal (or ginger)
1 Fresno red chili pepper
2 Serrano chili pepper
1 tablespoon kosher salt, plus more to taste
1 or 2 tablespoons red chili flakes, depending on desired heat
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
1/8 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 1/2 pounds beef chuck, cut in 2-inch pieces
1/2 stalk lemongrass, lighter part, bruised with back of knife
1 can coconut milk
1 generous tablespoon brown sugar
2 teaspoons tamarind paste (or zest from a lime and lemon, plus juice from 1 lime)
steamed rice for service, garnished with cilantro and lime if desired
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