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Snapshots from Malaysia: How to Make Beef Rendang
One of Malaysia's better-known dishes is beef rendang, a slow-cooked dry curry deeply spiced with ginger and turmeric, kaffir lime and chilis. (You'll find chicken, vegetable, and seafood rendang as well.) In Malaysian fashion, it fuses sweet, sour, and savory elements, the curry picking up a creamy richness from two forms of coconut and an elusive tang from asam keping, slices of a sour sun-dried fruit.
"Dump everything into a pot, and cook to oblivion" is how Malaysian cooking instructor Rohani Jelani, owner and instructor at cooking school Bayan Indah Culinary Retreat, characterizes her beef rendang method. It's more likely to be an occasion dish than an everyday dinner—first, due to the cooking time; second, in that it likely originated as a dish for a large crowd. Without refrigeration, the slaughter of a cow left a family with an awful lot of meat to consume quickly; cooking it all up in rendang could feed a crowd easily, and the long stewing process helped to extend the life of that beef by a few more days.
While the ingredient list is lengthy, the process is dead simple: chop up chilis and aromatics and blend into a paste; pour that paste into a pot along with coconut milk and beef; and cook. The liquid reduces down and coconut oils emerge from the milk, so that by the end, the meat is essentially frying in that flavor-laden oil. It's not a quick dish, but the flavors that build and concentrate make the cooking time worth every moment.
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