Beef Rendang

I’m often asked what is my favorite dish to prepare; it basically comes with the territory in this line of work. While it’s hard to choose a favorite, Beef Rendang often comes to mind – there’s truly no taste like it.

Rendang is a dry curry that originated among the Minangkabau people of West Sumatra and later spread throughout Indonesia and Malaysia. Its age is unknown, but historians have traced its origin as far back as 500 years. There are three recognized forms of rendang in Minangkabau culture, each depending on the cooking time: a pale, lightly cooked curry known as gulai; a browned but still liquid curry called kalio; and a rich, dry, dark brown dish called rendang, the version prepared in this recipe. In other countries, most notably Malaysia and the Netherlands, the rendang most often served is closer to kalio. While its extended cooking time can be a test of patience, it’s well worth the wait; the aroma and overwhelming richness of rendang are unforgettable.

I first published a rendang recipe nearly four years ago, and it’s made some slight but significant changes since then. Earlier this year I made a batch, and took the photo you see above – it quickly became one of my favorite photos of the year, and so I figured it was a good excuse to share the updated recipe. For the past year or two, this has been the version we’ve been making at home, as it has fewer steps and comes together very quickly.

Of the ingredients found in this dish, kaffir lime leaves are likely the hardest to find. They can often be found fresh or frozen at your local Asian market, and sold fresh online; but if in a pinch, don’t hesitate to buy dried leaves, as they are easily reconstituted in liquid, fully flavored, and very convenient.

Similarly, lemongrass is also something that can typically be found only in Asian markets, although Amazon will ship fresh stalks, too.

Beef Rendang (Paleo, Primal, Gluten-free, Perfect Health Diet, Whole30)

  • Servings: 4-6
  • Difficulty: Easy

Spice Paste:
1 red or orange bell pepper, stems and seeds removed, coarsely chopped
5 shallots, quartered (about 1 cup)
4 cloves garlic
1″ ginger, peeled and coarsely chopped (or 1/2 tsp ground ginger)
1″ galangal, peeled and coarsely chopped (see note below)
1 small handful macadamia nuts (about 8 nuts)
1 spicy chile (jalapeno, habanero, bird’s eye, etc) to taste
2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp ground turmeric
1/2 tsp ground cloves (or 1 tsp whole cloves)
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
1 (14oz) can coconut milk


2-3 lbs chuck or boneless short ribs, cut into 1 1/2″ chunks
4 stalks lemongrass, cut into 3″ pieces
1 cinnamon stick
7 kaffir lime leaves (aka makrut leaves)
1 bay leaf

1. Combine the spice paste ingredients in a blender and blend into a fine paste. Warm a large skillet or dutch oven over medium heat, then add the blended spice paste; simmer until aromatic, about 5 minutes. Add the remaining ingredients and carefully stir until well combined.

2. Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer, stirring every 10-15 minutes to prevent scorching, until the liquid has evaporated, the beef fat is rendered, and oil appears on the surface. It should take 2-3 hours. Reduce the heat to low if the sauce simmers too rapidly and appears to be boiling rather than simmering. The curry should have a slightly dry and oily texture.

** If you can’t find galangal locally, you can buy it dried online; soak it in warm water for an hour before blending with the spice paste. Otherwise, simply double the amount of ginger and omit the galangal – easy!

41 thoughts on “Beef Rendang

  1. Please consider not using the name “kaffir” for the lime leaves. They are aka magrut or makrut lime leaves, which is much less racist.

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    1. Kris, I appreciate the comment, and didn’t realize that the negative connotation of the word “kaffir” extended to kaffir lime leaves; but after some quick research (http://www.slate.com/blogs/browbeat/2014/07/03/kaffir_lime_racist_murky_origins_suggest_a_racial_slur_might_be_responsible.html), it appears that this is indeed an item of contention, although with many asserting that the fruit came from the Kaffir culture in Sri Lanka.

      I have seen the Thai word “makrut” to describe the fruit, but one of the main issues is that conventional labeling uses the word kaffir lime to refer to the leaves (like this bottle from my pantry, which I bought at Whole Foods: https://thedomesticatedman.files.wordpress.com/2016/06/img_5420.jpg) – the word “makrut” yields 11 results on Amazon, and nearly 2,000 for the words “kaffir lime”. I’ve gone ahead and added the word “makrut” to my ingredients list, but for sake of clarity, I chose to leave the more conventional name as well.

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    1. I’ve had it with tumeric rice, steam rice and even coconut rice. However I like just simple steam rice with rendang curry

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      1. Oh I love fragrant coconut rice. Lately I bought extra basmati as I’m experimenting with Persian saffron rice. But can’t wait to try coconut rice. Yum yum

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  2. This is a plain insult to Indonesian cuisine and the Indonesian people. This shit has nothing to do with rendang! Half of the ingredients listed here don’t even go in rendang! Please, change the name to healthy paleo beef or something and don’t call it something it’s obviously not. 1 measly pepper is just pathetic.

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    1. There is a staggering amount of variety to this dish. For example, on the Indonesian section of Cookpad (a popular recipe repository in SE Asia), there are 181 different versions of Rendang Daging (https://cookpad.com/id/cari/rendang%20daging). As stated on the Indonesian Wikipedia page for the dish (https://id.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rendang), “Meskipun rendang merupakan masakan tradisional Minangkabau secara umum, masing-masing daerah di Minangkabau memiliki teknik memasak dan penggunaan bumbu yang berbeda” (“Although rendang is usually prepared in the traditional Minangkabau manner, every section in the Minangkabau region uses a variety of cooking techniques and ingredients”). In other words, even in the culture that created the dish there are variations.

      The purpose of posting my recipe of this dish, and all traditional dishes on my site, is not to perfectly recreate a dish, but to find a balance between new tastes and obtainable ingredients in a way that is pleasing to the Western palate (an overwhelming majority of my readers are from the United States, with many in Canada, the UK, and Australia). That is why I only called for one spicy chile pepper, in combination with a bell pepper, to provide a similar flavor profile with the option of increasing peppers based on heat tolerance (the recipe reads, “to taste” – there is no value in a recipe that is too spicy to enjoy, so I always build recipes to be mild with the option to add spice). As another example, my recipe calls for macadamia nuts instead of candle nuts, since the former are much easier to obtain here in the United States, and they are the closest equivalent in terms of flavor and consistency.

      Going back to the Wikipedia page for the dish, “Selain bahan dasar daging, rendang menggunakan santan kelapa (karambia), dan campuran dari berbagai bumbu khas yang dihaluskan di antaranya cabai (lado), serai, lengkuas, kunyit, jahe, bawang putih, bawang merah dan aneka bumbu lainnya yang biasanya disebut sebagai pemasak” (“In addition to the basic ingredient of meat, rendang contains coconut milk and a mixture of various spices typically ground together to include chilies, lemongrass, galangal, turmeric, ginger, garlic, onion and various other spices which are commonly referred to as pemasak”). Looking at my ingredients list, it appears that my interpretation is pretty spot-on; the spices not listed above that are in my list (cloves (cengkeh), nutmeg (pala), bay leaf (daun salam), cinnamon (kayu manis), and kaffir lime (jeruk purut)) are also typical add-ins based on my experience and the 181 recipes I listed above, and are all native to the Indonesian archipelago.

      I typically do not respond to vitriolic comments, but considering that I have devoted the past 15 years of my life to studying the Indonesian culture and language (I serve in the US Navy as a Russian and Indonesian translator), having traveled to the area extensively, and the fact that I have served this dish many times to (extremely satisfied) Indonesian friends, I felt it appropriate to elaborate. My intention is not to insult the Indonesian people or their cuisine, but to introduce a dish that may otherwise be unknown to a new audience.

      I understand that my recipe may not be what you are expecting, and it happens often when sharing traditional and regional dishes; for example, I had a negative comment on social media about this dish that stated it wasn’t “traditionally prepared” because it lacked kerisik (a toasted coconut condiment) – which based on my experience is only found predominantly in Malaysian and Singaporean versions of Rendang. As you can see, I’m often left in a position where I can’t please everyone – but to me, it’s more important to expose my readers to the dish in a way that’s delicious, using ingredients that are relatively easy to find in Western markets.

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      1. Russ, I wanted to leave you a positive comment because I felt that you should know how much your recipes are enjoyed and valued. I have never commented before but some of these comments are ridiculous and I felt like you should also hear something positive. Opinions are like assholes, we all have them and some are nice and some are shitty.
        Personally, your recipes have opened my mind and broadened my horizons. I used to eat chicken nuggets and cheese and now I eat all sort of Asian dishes I would have never tried before! I love Vietnamese and Thai food now because of you! I own 3 of your books and your recipes are primarily what I make in my home for my family who all love the meals! I have learned a lot about all types of cuisines because of you which I would never have otherwise. People these days get offended by everything under the sun, it’s really lame. Just know that your knowledge and awesome recipes are appreciated and loved.

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        1. Hi M, that was a wonderful comment to Russ. I learned a new phrase about opinions and assholes. I got a chuckle out of that.
          I certainly can’t wait to make this dish. My uncle was Dutch Indonesian and didn’t realize I had this dish as a child, until I found it again in a restaurant recently. So I’m going to make as its dish of my younger days :)

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  3. We made this Saturday and everyone loved it. The single chili, though perhaps not authentic, worked for us because the kids don’t like heat. They all enjoyed the various spices and flavor so without being put off by the heat (my Thai food is typically too hot for them).

    One question. The coconut milk is listed under paste ingredients. Do you blend it in? Usually, when making curries, I fry the paste then add the milk, meat, etc.

    As for the lime leaves I found years ago it was easy to by a small tree. They grow easily.

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    1. Hi James, sorry to taking so long to respond – I missed this comment the first time around. I also will usually fry the paste and then add the milk, which is the method I used in my first few versions of this recipe. But I’ve found that mixing everything together in the beginning produces the same results: as the coconut milk cooks down, the remaining paste gets plenty of time to caramelize before serving.

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  4. Hi Russ, I just wanted to say that I made this over the weekend and it was mindblowing. It was so good I shed tears of joy. Then I promptly face-planted in it. Anyway, point is, I live in Singapore, and maybe we don’t get the most authentic rendang, but it was the best rendang I have had to date (I have yet to visit Indonesia though..) My friend, who is a Malaysian and has eaten some more authentic food in his life, approved of it and said it was good rendang (I take it as a compliment. Hard to please a Malaysian in Singapore). I absolutely love how easy it is to make as well – blend all the ingredients and simmer away. My chuck was rather lean so the beef turned out more chewy, but I think it would be fantastic with boneless short ribs or even beef cheeks (melting in the mouth, with all those connective tissues).

    Yes, I liked it so much I had to rave on and on about it. Thank you!

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