Category Archives: Indonesian

Rendang with Beef Cheeks


Rendang is one of the dishes I wrote about a long time ago when I hardly had any visitors. I have been meaning to repost it for quite a long time because it has a special place in my heart (and my palate!). If I mention it twice on my blog it’s obviously because it’s one of the most extraordinary Asian dishes I know, but, most of all, because, apart from steak tartare, this is actually the only beef dish I am fond of and the only one where I  wouldn’t substitute beef with any other meat.

For those of you who have never heard about it, rendang is a very famous Indonesian meat stew from Padang, a city on the Sumatra Island, and is sometimes called Padang Style Spicy Beef. It consists of the meat slowly simmered in a mixture of coconut milk and spices and herbs. The most frequent version found in Indonesian restaurants is prepared with beef. I still remember the first time I tasted rendang in a restaurant and was amazed how excellent a beef dish can taste.

My first home experiments with rendang were good but I the crucial moment was when a butcher advised me beef cheeks instead of the usual “simmering” beef cuts. The difference in taste and texture was so huge that since then I have been preparing rendang exclusively with beef cheeks and am still convinced this is the best cut for this dish.

Beef cheeks, one of the most delicious and unjustly ignored part are quite lean (if the butcher removes the fat, but it’s possible to do at home), they are obviously very dense and literally all muscles (everyone knows what the cows are doing with their jaws all day long…), they contain a lot of gelatin and are cheap. When raw, they are very tough, ugly and if you can’t ask the butcher to cut them up into pieces, they require a very good big knife and a certain dexterity. In my kitchen the only utensils able to deal with them is a Chinese cleaver and a ceramic knife… However, these unattractive bits, when simmered for three – four hours, miraculously get transformed into a mouth-melting delight… Needless to say, since I discovered this marvellous beef cut, I have abandoned all the remaining “good for simmering” parts.

Even though the preparation takes several hours and includes quite a long list of ingredients, it is really worth trying. Even the pickiest and least adventurous eaters enjoy it (unless you tell them these are beef cheeks BEFORE they ask for a second serving 😉 ). Moreover, rendang’s preparation can easily be divided in two or even three stages. I usually start simmering the beef at night, then leave it overnight and start again the night I intend to serve it. Obviously this is the kind of dish, which gains on flavour when reheated.

I found my recipe in the  Singaporean, Indonesian and Malaysian Cuisine by Christina Sjahir Hwang. I have slightly adapted the spicy mixture’s amount to be used only in this dish and reduced the coconut milk amount (see TIPS).

TIPS: As I have already mentioned beef cheeks are very difficult to cut, so either ask your butcher to cut them into 5 cm/about 2 in cubes or make sure you have a cleaver or a very sharp big knife (and make sure you cut them carefully).

This recipe (like many Indonesian recipes) calls for candlenuts. I found these here twice and twice, according to my Chinese friend, they were rancid. She advised using macadamia nuts instead, which I used to use until last week when I discovered that almonds are a great (though tasteless) substitute here. I always have ground almonds, so it’s very convenient, especially since the recipe calls for so many ingredients.

Coconut milk evaporates at the end of the simmering process and the sauce becomes really greasy and very rich. I prefer it lighter, but still creamy, hence the radical reduction of coconut milk (200 ml instead of 500ml). I dilute it with water which will evaporate anyway and the thickened sauce at the end is much lighter.

Rendang tastes great sprinkled with coriander, but I have accidentally discovered another plant, perfect for this dish: Vietnamese mint (on the photo above). It’s a pungent plant, somewhere between mint and coriander and I have only discovered it a couple of weeks ago.

Before I pass to the recipe I wanted to say that telepathy does exist  in the blogging world and this post is the best example. I haven’t prepared rendang for long months and as soon as I did, I took some photos, prepared today’s post and… only last night I saw beef rendang as Shu Han’s most recent post! And guess which beef cut did she use in her dish? Beef cheeks! I hope you might hop to Mummy, I can cook! and find interesting to compare her original version which also includes venison…

Special equipment:

a very good big, sharp knife or a cleaver

a food processor or a mortar

Preparation: 4 – 6 hours (depends on the animal)

Ingredients (serves 3-4):

3 teaspoons salt

600g-700g/about 1,5 lb beef cheeks, without fat and cut into chunks

500 ml/about 2 cups coconut milk (I use 200 ml coconut milk diluted with water; this makes the dish lighter, but of course depends on your preferences)

Spicy mixture:

3 tablespoons chili

2 big garlic cloves

1 small shallot 

1 tablespoon candlenuts or macadamia nuts or almonds

1 tablespoon mixed or chopped fresh galangal

1 stalk lemon grass, crushed with the knife handle

1 teaspoon fresh chopped ginger

6 makrut lime leaves (known also as kafir)

1 teaspoon sugar

1 teaspoon tamarind juice (or 1 tablespoon tamarind seeds and flesh mixture diluted in water and strained)

Cut up the makrut lime leaves, the lemon grass, the galangal and the shallot very finely (this is important; otherwise you might end up with big threads or unpleasant chunks if you mix bigger pieces in some types of food processors…).

Mix the spicy mixture ingredients in a food processor or in a mortar into a homogenous paste.

Put the mixture into a big pan with coconut milk and bring to boil.

Lower the heat, add the beef cheeks and salt. Cover and simmer for 4-6 hours, adding water if necessary.

Take off the lid and let it simmer until the sauce thickens and the meat falls into pieces when “cut” with a teaspoon.

Serve with rice.