My friends and family refer to this as a Beef Rendang as they say it looks like it -only just enough sauce clinging to the meat and the taste is just like beef rendang, well, the Indonesian version. But, I was hesitant to refer to it as Beef Rendang as there are so many variations to a Beef Rendang recipe.  An Indonesian Beef Rendang typically uses more fresh herbs, a selection of tuberous roots, few spices and sometimes none at all. The Malaysian & Singaporean versions would almost always have quite a few spices in it and the addition of kerisik -pan toasted coconut which is then grounded into a paste.  As this recipe contains no spices or kerisik, and it follows the flavours of the Indonesian version, I have named it my Indonesian Inspired Beef Rendang. What makes this recipe good enough to share though?

Those whom I have served this version of Beef Rendang are ever eager to take home any leftovers. Not only is it delicious,  my discerning dinner guests know that a Beef Rendang always taste better the second day when the flavours permeate deeper into the meat. Why is it tasty? I add an ingredient that adds a lot of umami flavour into the dish. My diners knows it tastes good but no one has figured out what it is.

I had cooked through numerous versions of this recipe before I was finally satisfied with this one. For instance, there are 2 ways of cooking the beef: (1) browning the aromatics first and then adding beef to it or (2) adding everything into the pot to cook at the same time. I have tried both methods using the same recipe. Taking the time to brown the aromatics first definitely turned out a more flavourful rendang. I had also tried adding dried spices to the recipe but it didn’t benefit from it. In fact, it tasted much better without any dried spices.  There was then nothing to distract the diner from the fresh flavours of kaffir lime and tumeric leaves, galangal, ginger, tumeric and lemongrass.

What about the cuts of beef to use? I have tried it with 2 cuts of beef. The beef shin and a cut running along the hind leg that was recommended by my butcher. I will stick to the shin. It had been suggested that I should try beef shortribs. I am quite sure a Beef Rendang made with beef shortribs will taste wonderful as it’s a very reliable cut. It will also very likely take less than the 4 and 1/2 hours it takes beef shin to soften into gelatinous submission. But that cut of beef is just too costly. Until I feel like splurging, I will stick to beef shin.

Indonesian Inspired Beef Rendang

Prep: 30 minutes 
Cook: ~4 and 1/2 hours
Level: Intermediate
Serves: ~4 – 6 as part of a rice-based meal
Oven Temperature:
Can recipe be doubled? Yes
Make ahead? Keeps 3 days refrigerated.


1 cup=250ml=8.45 US fl oz

1.34 lb (600g) beef shin
1 cup oil
1/2 cup (2.11oz) (60g)dried baby prawns*
1 cup coconut milk**
For grinding
Weight of ingredients before they have been cleaned
8.81 oz (250g) purple onions (smaller sized ones are sweeter)
1.76 oz (50g) ginger
1.05 oz (30g) galangal/lengkuas/blue ginger
0.45 oz (13g) tumeric
1.76 oz (50g) chillies***
0.7 oz (20g) garlic
2 lemongrass
1 tumeric leaf* OR 3 bay leaves
3 kaffir lime leaves
1 tamarind slice OR 1 Tablespoon tamarind paste**
1 teaspoon salt
* Please refer to image below. Use those from South-east Asia. However, the Japanese or Korean variety would work as well. These dried baby prawns gives this dish that umami taste that makes it very tasty.
** I prefer to use coconut milk that I can buy from the chiller section of supermarkets. Alternatively, I buy canned coconut milk. I do not like to use UHT coconut milk, (those that are packed in paperboard cartons that do not need to be refrigerated), as they contain too much stabilisers which isn’t suitable for beef rendang.
*** Choose a mix of bigger fatter chillies and smaller slimmer chillies for the level of heat you want. The former are usually not spicy but there is no guarantee whilst the latter is almost always spicy hot. 
* Refer to image below. Tumeric leaves can be hard to buy. Some Asian grocery stores have them in the chiller or frozen sections. Fresh bay leaves are a good substitute.
** Refer to image below. Tamarind is a sour fruit. The paste is partially processed and contains seeds and pulps. It is sold in flat rectangle blocks or in little tubs.

Left: Baby dried prawns commonly used in South-east Asia. Right: These ones are more commonly used in Japanese and Korean cooking.


Prep the ingredients
1. Measure out 1/2 cup dried prawns in a measuring cup. Top up with water to reach 1 cup. Set aside 10 minutes. After which, drain and keep aside the soaking liquid for use later. Grind the dried prawns in a food processor until it looks fluffy. Transfer from food processor. Do not wash the food processor as you need it to grind the aromatics.

2. If using dried tamarind slice, rinse and set aside. If using tamarind paste, place the paste into a small bowl and add ~ 3 – 4 Tablespoons water. Soak for 10 minutes and then use your fingers to remove all the paste from the seeds and mix it all into the water.  Use a sieve to remove impurities, discard that and keep the tamarind water aside.
3. Clean the beef shin and pat dry. Cut them into ~2″x 1″ (5cmX2.5cm). Measurements don’t have to be exact. The idea is to have them cut in such a way that all the beef pieces will cook at the same time.
4. Clean and roughly slice onions, ginger, galangal, tumeric, chillies and garlic. Grind them up in the same food processor until you have a smooth paste.
5. When you are ready to fry, smash the lemongrass to release the essential oils. I use the base of my heavy frying pan, rolling pin or the narrow sides of my cutting board to do the smashing. I don’t use the sides of a knife as is often recommended as it is dangerous.
6. At the same time, remove the stems from the kaffir lime leaves and tumeric leaf.

Let’s fry
1. Use a frying pan or a pot that is preferably nonstick with a depth of 3″ (7.5cm). Set the pan on the burner. Do not turn on the heat as yet.
2. In the cold pan, add oil and the ground dried prawns. Do not stir and do not skimp on the oil or you will have a hard time stirring and preventing ingredients from burning. You can skim off the oil after cooking.
3. Turn burner on to medium-high heat. Do not stir. Wait for oil bubbles to appear and then, start stirring. Why add ingredients to cold oil and pan?  Should you choose to add damp ground dried prawns to hot oil, the oil will spit and splutter quite wildly.
4. Stir for ~5 minutes. You will notice that as you stir, the oil will foam madly away. That’s why you need to fry in a pan that is deep enough to prevent overspills.

5. Once the foaming subsides, continue to stir until the dried prawns turn a light brown (refer to image), there will be a clear separation of oil and dried prawns and there will be the scent of toasted dried prawns.

6. Add the lemongrass, kaffir lime leaves, tumeric leaf, the ground ingredients and

7. stir to mix. Notice that at this stage, it is still paste-like.

8. Fry the ingredients for ~10 -15 minutes or until the ground ingredients looks much drier. Taste a little of it. It should not taste at all raw but should have a faint taste of caramelised onions.

9. Add the beef and stir to coat well. Then, add the dried prawn soaking liquid, coconut milk, dried tamarind slice or tamarind water and salt. Mix well.

10. Turn heat down to low, cover the pan and leave a less than 1/2″ (1.25 cm) gap for steam to escape. Check on it every 15 minutes or so and give it a stir to prevent burning. It will take at least 4 hours to 4 and 1/2 hours for the beef to become tender. This timing is for beef shin. If you are using other cuts of beef, you will need to adjust timings.
11. This is what it looks like after 2 hours

12. This is what it looks like after 3 hours.

13. This is what it looks like after 4 and 1/2 hours. Notice there is just enough sauce to coat the meat. I had taste tested the meat at this point and the muscles and tendons had become gelatinously tender.

How to tell when meat is cooked far enough?
1. After 4 hours, use a skewer to test if the meat is tender. Does the skewer slide in easily? Is there a bit of resistance or is it rock hard? Or is the meat too tender and falling apart?
2. If the skewer slides in easily, remove a cube of beef, slice off a little and taste. Is it tender or still chewy? If it is still chewy, continue cooking and retest again later. If it is tender and there is still a lot of sauce in the pan (we are aiming for the same amount of sauce as the image directly above), turn heat up to high to caramelise the beef and reduce the sauce. The beef should turn a dark brown shade similar to the colour in the image directly above (not burnt though!). Then, turn off and remove from burner.
3. If the skewer slides in with some resistance, continue to cook covered, until the meat is tender. You might have to add a little water but only if necessary.  Then, follow through with Step 2 if necessary.
4. If the meat is rock hard, check that there is enough liquid for the beef to cook further. You would very likely have to add ~1/4 cup water. Cover and continue to cook until tender. Then follow through with Step 2.
5.  If the meat is clearly too fall apart tender, remove the meat as you don’t want it to break down any further. Boil down the sauce until it turns a darker shade of brown (similar to the image directly above). There should be just enough sauce to coat the beef. Return beef to pan, coat with the sauce, turn off and remove from burner.

To serve
1. Remove and discard all the leaves, lemongrass and dried tamarind slice (although the latter might have totally disintegrated).
2. Serve straight away or at room temperature with a rice-based meal. Alternatively, cool, refrigerate and eat the next day. The flavours would have permeated deeper into the meat and would taste better.


See the image below,

that was how I served my Beef Rendang at a recent dinner party.

The food paired well against each other as when I was planning the menu I had taken into account:
(1) heat level (as in how spicy each dish is)
(2) taste and textures
(3) how dry or ‘saucy’ each dish was against each other.
What do I mean?

Beef Rendang only had enough of a thick sauce clinging on the meat. It was a ‘fairly dry’ dish. It was spicy.
Indonesian Inspired Chicken Curry Made With Fresh Herbs came with a fair amount of sauce and the sauce had a consistency between milk and whipping cream. It was a ‘saucy’ dish. It was moderately spicy.
Bean Sprouts With Tofu In A Citrusy, Light, Thin Coconut Sauce had a very thin and light sauce (copious amount of it actually) and it had the consistency of water. It was a ‘watery’ dish. It was not spicy.
Easy Asian Pineapple Salad had a watery, oil-free sweet and sour dressing. It could be spicy or not depending on whether you chose to add cut chillies.
Asianised Tuna Potato Patties was a dry dish. It was not spicy.
Sambal Chilli served as a condiment. It was wet and spicy.

When you plan your menu, keep in mind the 3 points and you will have a well thought out meal that will not only taste very well balanced, it will also look better on your dinner plate.