Malaysian beef rendang is a delicious braised beef dish that is full of complex flavors! Traditional Malaysian beef rendang can be pretty complicated to make, but I think I’ve finally figured out how to make this recipe a little more accessible and easy to make! I’m so excited to share it with you!
Living in Penang, Malaysia, we are exposed to a lot of great food. There are many traditional dishes that draw foodie tourists from around the world. CNN Travel and Lonely Planet have named Penang the food travel destination in recent years.
One of the reasons this island has given birth to so many great dishes is because of it’s history of being a nexus of cultures. Indians, Chinese, Malay, British, Portuguese, and many others came to this port to trade during the spice trade era. Being a center of trade for spices meant that spices were a key feature in the food here to showcase what can be done with those spices.
Malaysian Beef Rendang, Nyonya-Style
Nyonya cuisine is a particularly good example of the fusion that came from the collision of cultures. It is a unique coming together of Chinese and Malay cooking traditions. One of the most popular Nyonya style dishes is also my most-viewed post here on Mommynificent: Ayam Kapitan, a mild Malaysian chicken curry.
Another Nyonya dish that is wildly popular here is beef rendang. Malaysian beef rendang is a saucy, braised beef dish. It is spicier than ayam kapitan, but if you make it yourself, you can control the heat. The traditional recipe calls for 10-12 dry chilis for a kilo (2.2 pounds) of meat. You can drop this down to all the way to zero if that’s your preference.
A Few Braising Tips
This is a braised beef recipe, so if you want to get really tender meat, there are a few tricks you should know.
- Cook it low and slow. At the end of the recipe where it says to let it simmer for an hour, you can actually let it go even longer as long as it is at a low temperature. If using a oven safe pot, try putting it in the oven like a pot roast, or alternatively, use a slow cooker set on low (my favorite strategy!)
- Don’t serve right from the heat. The meat will need to rest a bit to get tender.
How to Serve Malaysian Beef Rendang
All the restaurants around here serve the rice in a dome shape on the plate. This is a neat party trick that is easy to do. Pack the cooked rice into a bowl and tap it onto your plate. Sprinkle fried shallots or garlic on top.
Malaysian beef rendang is often served on the side of the rice rather than on top as in Indonesia because there isn’t a lot of sauce. (Indonesian rendang is a much saucier dish. I actually prefer the Indonesian variety, but Daddynificent prefers Malaysian so we’re sharing this one first! Hopefully I’ll get the Indonesian version ready to share very soon!)
You’ll want to add a veggie of some sort to get some color on the plate. Green beans are always a favorite (though not of my family, unfortunately). Another option is to saute some greens and carrots. A slice or two of cucumber is good to help tame the tongue if the spice gets to be a bit much.
Regional Variations of Beef Rendang
As I said, this version that I am sharing is the Nyonya version from here in Penang. There are variations on this dish up and down the Malay Peninsula and down through the island of Sumatra in Indonesia. Some serve it wetter with more sauce as mentioned above. Some serve it so spicy that you feel like your face is on fire.
Some people also add fried peanuts. This is more of an Indonesian variation. In a frying pan with a little oil, fry peanuts and sliced garlic until golden brown. Cool on a paper towel and sprinkle with salt.
In short, don’t worry about making it “authentic” because that will mean something different for different people. Make it your own.
- 1 kg (2.2 pounds) beef (cut in strips, approximately 1x2 inches and ¼ to ½ inch thick)
- 3 dried tamarinds, soaked in 1.5 cups of water; substitute with 3 Tbsp lemon or lime juice + 1 cup of water if you can't find
- ½ cup (100 g) onion (I usually just use a whole onion)
- 5 or 6 cloves of garlic
- 10-12 dry chilies (deseeded)
- 10 kaffir lime leaves (chopped); substitute with rind of 2 limes if you can't find
- 4 sticks lemongrass
- ½ cup (200 gr) brown sugar (adjust to taste!)
- 5 whole cardamon pods
- 2 sticks cinnamon
- 2 turmeric leaves (chopped); substitute bay leaves or leave out
- 2 cups unsweetened desiccated coconut (for more authenticity, toast this on a dry wok for a few minutes before adding or you can actually buy prepared toasted coconut or "kerisik" from Asian grocery shops)
- 1¾ cups (1 can) coconut milk
- Soak dry tamarinds in 1.5 cups of lukewarm water; (you'll actually use the water and throw out the tamarinds later).
- Using a blender or a food processor, blend the onion, garlic, chilies, kaffir lime leaves and lemongrass into a thick paste. In a wok or large skillet, fry this spice paste in a little oil for a few minutes until fragrant.
- Add 1 cup of water from the tamarinds soaking to the wok. (Or substitute 3 Tbsp lemon or lime juice plus 1 cup water)
- Add beef; cook over medium heat for 3 to 4 minutes, until meat is browned.
- Stir in the brown sugar, whole cardamon pods, cinnamon sticks, turmeric leaves, desiccated coconut, and coconut milk. Season with salt to taste. Bring to a boil.
- At this point, you can either lower the heat and simmer until most of the liquid has gone and the meat is tender (about 1 hour), you can put it in the oven at 250F for about an hour, or you can pour the whole mixture into the crockpot and leave it on low for 3-8 hours.
- Serve with rice.