Serious Eats: Recipes

Beef Short Rib Rendang

Learn more about how to make rendangs here.

[Photograph: Chichi Wang]

When I dined at Fatty Crab, my favorite dish by far was the Beef Short Rib Rendang. Meltingly tender, deboned chunks for beef short ribs were nestled in a creamy, sweet, and spicy coconut sauce. Finally, there were tiny bits of coconut—dried yet tender at the same time—that coated the morsels of meat for an incredible textural contrast. It turns out that the bits of coconut were kerisik: fresh coconut that's been grated, toasted, then lightly pounded. (For instructions on how to make your own kerisik, click here.)

The next day, I asked chef Zach Pelaccio for his beef rendang recipe, and he happily obliged with not only the recipe, but also a few nuggets of wisdom about coconut milk:

According to Zak:

Coconut milk: It's creamy and delicious...fatty and frothy...

And, most often in our dear temperate climate, we get it out of a can. Sad, but true. Unless you have a great source for impeccably fresh coconuts, producing milk of sufficient volume is a challenge. It is also a huge labor drain as the process of cleaning the mature coconut prior to grating it and pressing it the same as for kerisik. You peel the coconut and then purée it with hot water and press it through a sieve lined with cheese cloth. Use about 1 cup of water per coconut. After the first pressing, add another cup of hot water and press again. The two pressing can be mixed together and used as standard coconut milk.

Be sure, however, that you smell each coconut you crack to ensure it is not sour. I have found that of the fresh, mature coconuts I have purchased in New York, 1 out of 4 are sour. And, just in case you were wondering, you cannot use the young, green coconuts to produce coconut milk—but you can drink the water, and, for a real good time, mix the water with a little rum and lime juice. Yeah girl, tropical flavor.

I have found the best canned brand of coconut milk to be Arroy-D from Thailand. Chaokoh is a quality brand as well. We use Arroy-D at Fatty Crab.

As you'll notice, Zak's method forgoes the final browning stage of rendangs, in which the liquid is reduced to next to nothing while the meat gets browned in the remaining coconut oil. Instead, the meat is served with a partially reduced coconut sauce, oily yet still creamy, which is enriched with the kerisik at the end. The bits of coconut soak up much of the remaining oil, providing each bite of beef with a accompanying burst of fatty coconut bliss.

Note: Here's a description of assam/asam gelugor, which appears in the recipe below, from Cradle of Flavor:

This sour-tasting, apple sized, yellow fruit, native to Malaysia, is rarely eaten raw. Instead, it is thinly sliced—skin, core, seeds, and all—then left to dry in the sun. The leathery dried slices are about 2 inches wide, brown to dark brown, and have an earthy, slightly fermented aroma. They add tartness to soups, curries, braises, and stews. [...] Nyonya cooks prize asam gelugor for the way it balances the natural sweetness of dishes containing coconut milk. I like it for its appealingly smoky-sour taste, which is is similar to tamarind but more assertively tart...

Imported from Malaysia or Thailand, it's sold in plastic bags labeled asam, assam, or dried tamarind slices. Though it's similarly used, the gelugor fruit is botanically unrelated to tamarind.

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