Traditionally, the term “rendang” does not refer to a dish or a class of dishes. Rather, it describes a method of slow cooking meat until the cooking liquid and juices have evaporated and what remains in the pot of meat is a concentration of flavors. Beef rendang is probably the most well known of rendang dishes but pork rendang is just as delicious.
If some rendang dishes you have encountered are more saucy than others, that’s because there’s wet rendang and dry rendang. In cooking wet rendang, the stew is taken off the heat while the meat pieces are still swimming in a generous amount of sauce. To make dry rendang, continue cooking your wet rendang until the mixture is quite dry.
Which is better — wet or dry rendang? That’s a matter of personal preference. People who like to douse their rice with sauce prefer wet rendang. Those who prefer more concentrated flavors in the meat go for dry rendang.
This is a recipe for dry pork rendang. It’s not curry. There is no such thing as curry in authentic Asian cooking. Curry is a term coined by the British to give a name to the spicy sauces prevalent in South Asian dishes.
So, again, rendang is not the same as the curry dishes that the English-speaking world knows. Substituting commercial curry powder or paste for the rendang spice paste will not give the dish the flavors of real rendang.
Pork rendang starts with a good spice paste. There are ready-to-use rendang spice pastes in the market but there is nothing like making your own. The spice list is long (galangal, garlic, shallots, peppercorns, coriander seeds, chilies, turmeric, cumin and nutmeg) but you really want to include all of them in the marinade.
Toast the spices, grind and rub all over the pork pieces. Marinate the pork overnight in the fridge.
The next day, about two hours before your meal, saute onion, lemongrass and cinnamon. Add the marinated pork and some kaffir lime leaves. The aroma will make you crazy hungry but it gets better.
Pour in coconut milk. That’s the liquid in which the pork will cook.
Add desiccated coconut. That will thicken the sauce and add a lovely texture to the dry rendang.
A tip here: If you can get freshly grated coconut, use that instead. Dry fry until toasted to get and beautiful nutty flavor and aroma before adding to the rendang.
Now, all you need to do is cover the pan and let the pork simmer.
The color deepens as the liquid reduces.
If your rendang still looks too wet after the pork has reached the stage of tenderness that you like, simply turn up the heat a bit and continue cooking the pork uncovered. This is the part where I like to add some scallions. Remember to stir and scrape the bottom of the pan at this stage. Otherwise, all that desiccated coconut will scorch.
A few minutes of cooking and stirring and the pork rendang is done. You can stop cooking at this point or continue cooking, frying the meat in the rendered fat, until the pork acquires a fried texture.
Rendang is best with rice. Sprinkle with more scallions before serving.
For the spice paste:
- 8 cloves garlic peeled
- 4 to 6 bird's eye chilies
- 1 teaspoon coriander seeds
- 1 teaspoon black peppercorns
- 6 to 8 shallots peeled
- one-inch piece turmeric peeled (or 1 teaspoon turmeric powder)
- 1/4 teaspoon cumin seeds
- 1 teaspoon crushed galangal
- 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
- 1 kilo stewing pork (I recommend belly, neck or shoulder), cut into two-inch cubes
To cook the pork rendang:
- 3 tablespoons vegetable cooking oil
- 1 onion chopped
- 2 stalks lemongrass white part only, bruised
- 2 sticks cinnamon
- 2 pairs kaffir lime leaves thinly sliced
- 4 to 5 cups coconut milk (fresh, canned or hydrated coconut powder)
- 2 tablespoons tamarind extract
- 1/3 cup dessicated coconut (or 1/2 cup freshly grated coconut, dried fried until lightly browned)
- fish sauce to taste
- sugar to taste
- 6 tablespoons sliced scallions
- Start by making the spice paste. In an oil-free pan, toast the garlic, chilies, coriander seeds, peppercorns, shallots, turmeric and cumin seeds. Transfer to a blender, add the crushed galangal and nutmeg. Process with a couple of tablespoonfuls of water to form a paste.
- Place the pork in a shallow bowl. Pour in the spice paste. Mix and work the spice paste into the meat. Cover and keep overnight in the fridge.
- Heat the cooking oil in a thick-bottomed pan. Saute the chopped onion, lemongrass and cinnamon sticks.
- Add the pork to the hot oil and cook until lightly browned along the edges.
- Add the kaffir lime leaves.
- Pour in the coconut milk and tamarind extract. Add the desiccated coconut. Stir. Season with fish sauce and sugar. Cover and simmer for an hour to an hour and a half (or longer) or until the pork is tender. Stir occasionally and remember to scrape the bottom of the pan. Taste occasionally as well and add more fish sauce or sugar, or both, as needed.
- Uncover the pan. Add half of the sliced scallions. Turn up the heat and continue cooking, stirring and scraping the bottom of the pan often, until the pork rendang is dry.
- Serve the pork rendang with more sliced scallions over hot rice.