Lamb Rendang

Indonesian Lamb Rendang

Rendang must be in my bloodstream, I think, a part of some core neural bit of circuitry that was formed when my parents took me to live in Singapore as a baby. While my parents left me outside to lounge in the tropical heat with my hired Amah, she must have been secretly spoon-feeding me the stuff, searing forever into my brain chemistry that perfect combination of coconut and spice. That’s the devotion I have to this dish. I can’t help but order it whenever I see it on a restaurant menu. Somehow, though, it never occurred to me to try actually making it.

When we were invited to participate in this year’s American Lamb Pro-Am in Boston, I knew right away that it was the recipe I wanted to try and develop to enter into the competition. Traditional Indonesian-style rendang is a fairly time-consuming project: Lamb is slow cooked in coconut milk, lemongrass, and chiles, as well as a complex spice paste (or rempah) until most of the liquid cooks away, leaving the meat tender and infused with flavor. During the last few minutes of cooking, after nearly all of the liquid has boiled away, only the fat from the coconut milk is left in the bottom of the pan. This is when the magic happens: The tenderized meat fries for the last few minutes in the coconut oil, creating a lightly crisp, sweet surface on the outside of the meat.

Lamb Rendang

It’s kind of the inverse of how we are taught to think about slow cooking meats here in the United States, where a quick browning in a pan is followed by hours of slow braising. With rendang, the opposite happens: The meat is slow-cooked first, all of its natural moisture replaced by coconut oil (a method originally used as a method of preservation), and then fried at the very end to create a crispy, sticky coating. Served over rice, it’s powerfully complex, addictive stuff.

Lamb Rendang

Don’t get nervous when you look over the following recipe and see how many ingredients there are, as well as just how much toasting, grinding, and pureeing you’re going to be doing. There are a lot of steps, but they’re all important to build flavor. The effort is beyond worth it. That’s just kind of the deal with rendang: You make it for someone you love, and you take your time, enjoy the process, and work through the steps.

Lamb Rendang

Don’t worry if the flavors don’t seem very intense as it is reducing; that all comes at the end, as the sauce concentrates and thickens. Resist the urge to adjust seasoning until the very end. I’ve tried to stick with ingredients that are readily available in most supermarkets, even in the barren wasteland that is the “ethnic” aisle in our local supermarket. If you can’t find an ingredient, skip it. Don’t want to spend $7 bucks on a jar of star anise? Don’t. It’ll be okay. That’s the beauty of rendang; as long as you’ve got a big leg of American lamb, some coconut milk, some lemongrass, and some chiles, the rest is improvisational. Here’s the recipe we came up with as a starting point:

Lamb Rendang

Indonesian Lamb Rendang
Serves 4

Ingredients:

For the lamb and marinade:

  • 3 to 3-1/2 pound boneless American leg of lamb
  • 1 cup sweetened shredded coconut, divided
  • 1 heaping tablespoon tamarind paste (or substitute juice and zest from one lime)
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon brown sugar

For the spice paste:

  • 10 small dried chiles japoneses
  • 1 tablespoon coriander seed
  • 1 teaspoon fennel seed
  • 1 teaspoon peppercorns
  • 1 tablespoon ground turmeric
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 large onion, roughly chopped
  • 2″ chunk of ginger, peeled and roughly chopped
  • 3 cloves of garlic, peeled
  • 2 tablespoons coconut oil (or substitute vegetable oil)

For the rendang:

  • 2 tablespoons lemongrass paste
  • 2-3 kaffir lime leaves
  • 2 star anise pods
  • 1-13 ounce can unsweetened coconut milk
  • 13 ounces water
  • 1 tablespoon soy sauce

Method:

For the lamb and marinade:

Lamb Rendang

Cut lamb into 2-inch cubes, and trim away excess fat.

Lamb Rendang

In a medium skillet over medium heat, toast coconut, stirring often, until light brown. Transfer to bowl of a food processor, and grind into coconut dust. Measure out two tablespoons of the coconut dust, and set aside.

Lamb Rendang

Combine the remaining ground, toasted coconut, the tamarind paste (or lime juice and zest), the salt, the sugar, and the lamb in a large bowl. Toss with your hands to coat evenly, and set aside while you work through the next steps.

For the spice paste:

Place dried chiles in a small bowl, and cover with boiling water. Set aside to let soak as you complete the rest of the spice paste.

Lamb Rendang

In a small skillet over medium-high heat, toast coriander seed, fennel seed, and peppercorns until they begin to become fragrant, about 2-3 minutes. Transfer to a spice grinder or mortar and pestle, and grind until fine.

Lamb Rendang

Transfer to bowl of a food processor, and add turmeric, cinnamon, onion, ginger, garlic, reserved two tablespoons of toasted coconut dust, softened red chiles, and a few tablespoons of the soaking liquid. Pulse until smooth, adding more liquid as needed and scraping down the sides of the bowl occasionally.

Lamb Rendang

In a large Dutch oven over medium heat, warm coconut (or vegetable) oil. Add spice paste and cook until liquid evaporates and spice paste begins to darken in color, about 6-8 minutes.

For the rendang:

Lamb Rendang

After spice paste darkens and becomes fragrant, add marinated lamb.

Lamb Rendang

Add lemongrass paste, kaffir lime leaves, star anise, and cook until no pink remains on the outside of the lamb. Add coconut milk, water (you can use the empty coconut milk can to measure the water), and soy sauce. Simmer, uncovered, 3 to 3-1/2 hours, or until almost all liquid has evaporated.

Lamb Rendang

You’ll want to watch your rendang very carefully during the last half hour of cooking, when the cooking liquid has almost all cooked away. Stir slowly (to avoid breaking meat apart) to prevent burning, and allow lamb to fry gently in the coconut oil that remains in the bottom of the pan for a few minutes before serving over steamed rice.

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Comments

  1. vipin says

    Fantastic recipe. Thank you so much for sharing! Just the thing we needed for a change of taste. Modified slightly with fried mustard seeds n a few more chillis for a kick.

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