Learn more about how to make rendangs here.
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 Zak 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.
- 15-pound short rib, bone-in cut 1 1/2 inches long
- Turmeric Paste:
- 0.6 ounces dried chile-soaked in warm water
- 0.8 ounces Thai chile, sliced no stems
- 1.1 ounces galangal, sliced
- 2.4 ounces young ginger, sliced
- 1 ounces tumeric root, sliced
- 12 ounces lemongrass, cleaned and sliced
- Shallot Paste:
- 7 ounces shallots, peeled and rough chopped
- 7 ounces garlic, peeled and rough chopped
- 3 ounces palm sugar, chopped
- 5 cups coconut milk
- 6 slices of assam skin (see note)—washed
- 1/4 cup kosher salt
- 13 ounces of kerisik
- Gula Jawa Syrup:
- 1/4 cup Gula Jawa (a type of palm sugar)
- 1/4 cup water
- 10 makrut lime leaves, very thinly slices lengthwise
- 3 limes, cut into wedges
- Coconut Rice:
- 1 quart Jasmine rice, washed and drained
- 1 quart water
- 1 tablespoon salt
- 1 pandan leaf (1.5 ounces), tied in knot
- 3 tablespoons sugar
- 1 can (1 3/4 cup) coconut milk, at 70°F
Two days before cooking:
Tumeric paste: Combine first set of ingredients and pound in a mortar or purée in food processor. Use some of the chile soaking water to help the machine purée the ingredients, if necessary. The purée should be as smooth as you can possibly get it, but don't stress out if there are some chunky bits; it'll be fine. In a container large enough to hold all the beef, rub the paste all over the beef and leave it in the container sitting in the fridge to marinate for 48 hours. Wear gloves when working with turmeric and turmeric paste as it will stain your hands.
The day of cooking:
Shallot Paste: Purée all the ingredients in a food processor until as smooth as possible. Scoop the paste out into a small container and let it hang out until you are ready to use it.
To braise: Preheat the oven to 225°F.
Place marinated short ribs in a single layer in a deep-sided roasting pan. You may need 2 pans to avoid stacking. Season each pan with the 1/8 cup kosher salt, or, if it all fits in one big pan, use 1/4 cup of kosher salt to season the whole deal. Divide the coconut milk, shallot paste, and assam skins evenly and add to the roasting pans. Toss the ribs to incorporate all the ingredients. Cover the pan(s) with parchment and top with tight fitting lid of foil.
Braise at 225°F until fork tender, about 6 to 6 1/2 hours.
Prepare the Gula Jawa Syrup anytime, as it keeps for months.
For Gula Jawa Syrup: Add gula jawa and water to sauce pot. Simmer on low flame until sugar has completely dissolved. Reserve warm for serving. To store, place in airtight container in refrigerator.
You can prepare the kerisik well in advance too.
To serve your rendang: Remove the ribs from the oven and carefully remove the foil and parchment and to make sure they are tender. If not, put the ribs back in the oven and continue cooking. If so, sprinkle the toasted coconut flakes over the ribs. The kerisik will absorb some of the fat and adhere to the meat thus increasing the unctuous, splendiferous flavor.
Spoon as many ribs as you would like to serve for this occasion into a large serving bowl or platter. Top with the braising liquid, oil and all. If you are keeping some ribs in reserve, reserve some of the liquid too. Drizzle the gula jawa syrup over the meat and sprinkle the thin sliced kaffir lime leaves on top. Serve the ribs with a side bowl of cut lime wedges and a large bowl of steamed coconut rice.
To make the coconut rice: In a large bowl or large sieve with holes small enough to prevent the rice from falling through, wash rice thoroughly under cold running water until the water runs clear. Dump the rice in a rice cooker and add salt, sugar, pandan leaf, and 1 quart of water. Cook until the cooker clicks, proclaiming the rice as finished. Fluff for a moment and pour in coconut milk. Mix the coconut milk and cooked rice gently and thoroughly. Season with salt to taste and keep warm in the rice cooker until dinner. If dinner is waiting on the rice, dump it into a bowl. I mean, what are you waiting for?