Simmering pots of Rendang are quickly snapped up

Henry

By Gerhardus Geldenhuis

I hold my breath, the laptop I dropped off at Sri’s nursing home gives a distress call about the state of the battery and will shut down within the next five minutes and then all our conference plans are gone with it. We are in the middle of lockdown in England, so everyone is hungry for company and Sri is so good at chatting and is a pioneer of Indonesian food in English, so everyone wants to chat.

After I got everyone quiet and made Sri realize the point of the matter, she is now looking for the computer’s power source which at least doesn’t take too long. Now there are only four minutes left.

Sri can’t find a working plug near the table where she is sitting, I ask her if she has an extension cord and after thinking for a bit she says yes and she gets up and goes to look for him, we are already crossing over at three minutes and 10 minutes before the conference starts. I can see on her camera how she is slowly walking around and searching. I count down the time in my head, just as loud as the ticking clock in the exam room while you try to convey one last bit of information with the realization that you should have started learning earlier. With about a minute left, Sri makes it back, plugs in and we have power again! Everyone is talking again and the crisis is over.

About a week or so later when I went back to collect the laptop, Sri gave me two bowls of food, one with Rendang and one with special rice. I savor it too deliciously at home and decide, while the master’s tastes are still fresh in my memory, to try making it myself. Sri is also very willing to give advice and warns me that it can be a messy game but that part of the lesson didn’t stick that strongly. Maybe it was just so much fun that I didn’t mind the mess everywhere.

Not too long after that, I find myself in South Africa in Graskop where I am wing-dragging and I would like to make a good impression. So I carted all the strange ingredients together from Pretoria and started cooking, and then quickly began to remember how messy it is. The dish is full of turmeric and spits like a pot of porridge when it boils, so there are yellow splashes everywhere! I then just get newspaper to put around the stove and am promised that the spill is not a problem, thank you for hospitality, because then I see how wing drag ends in wing down. The pot is just nicely full and the food strange enough to make it an opportunity to invite extra family, which then turned into a wonderful evening of visiting. I put way too many peppers in – must have been the mouse nests – but it wasn’t too little, still very tasty even if most of us had to eat it with a glass of milk.

Some time after that I stay with friends in an apartment in Pretoria and that evening I also make Rendang in their new kitchen which came with a lot of blood sweat. So when it started to get splashy, I’m not entirely surprised to be banished to the outside. Armed with a gas stove, I just have to finish cooking outside. It was actually a relief because while I was still in the kitchen, every splatter was a race to get cleaned up before the turmeric seeped in and left a yellow spot. There is probably still a yellow spot or two against the new tiles, but at least too small to see if you don’t know where to look. In the evening there was also extra family and we visit and eat again deliciously with this delicious curry dish.

My prettiest and skinniest cousin (she insisted) wasn’t terribly impressed with the splashing pot either, but I’m family and there wasn’t a spare gas stove so I just had to stay inside. She did start telling me about the bill for the new kitchen counter top and tiles around the stove.

Rendang is an Indonesian dish that was a method of preserving large quantities of buffalo meat in coconut and fat before there were refrigerators. As with most dishes, there are different methods and also opinions on where the dish comes from, but most people agree that Indonesia is the true birthplace of this dish.

So if you have a chance for the spill or are putting in a new kitchen next month or have a miracle cleaner, here is my recipe:

Rendang

Take three or four large onions, roughly chop them up and place them in a food processor. Add a whole neighborhood of garlic (garlic bulb), or more if you like to keep your meetings short the next day. Peel about 5 cm of fresh ginger, cut it roughly, then also peel the same amount of fresh turmeric. Use gloves when you peel the turmeric otherwise you will have yellow hands for a day or two. It is important not to use turmeric or ginger powder, because the fresh versions do not have a unique and more complex taste. Add chillies to taste, I only add one or two as I don’t like too hot and I take out the seeds. Finally, if you can find galangal, you can also add a 3 or 4 cm piece of it. It looks like bare ginger and is closely related, but not essential in my opinion. Add a can of coconut cream and blitz until everything is fine.

In the meantime, take breast piece (brisket) that has been cut into strips, or any meat with good fat, and fry it in a large pot. About a kilogram or two. When it starts to get a nice colour, add the finely ground sauce plus at least 4 cans of coconut cream or milk – but please just not low-fat versions, because we’re looking for the fat. Also add a stick of lemongrass. Heat the whole mixture to boiling point and then let it simmer slowly until all the liquid has boiled away and there is a lot of oil and fat left, this will take about 3 hours. Do not skim off the oil. Keep it boiling and when the mixture starts to get drier, stir it constantly so that it doesn’t burn. At this stage of the battle, you and your kitchen are going to come second under the onslaught of yellow splashes. The meat should continue to cook until there is almost no liquid left, the meat is browning and the oil begins to soak into the meat. It will also get a beautiful golden brown color and the flavor and taste will now be delicious. If you taste at the beginning, it will be slightly bitter because the turmeric is not yet cooked. I always taste as much as possible because then I learn how each phase should taste.

I serve it with plain white rice, but you can enrich the rice by replacing some of the water with coconut milk. I find it too rich, but it is very tasty. For a little bit of texture and taste, add finely chopped pistachios, as well as fresh thyme, which is a very tasty rice without being too rich. Cook the nuts together with the rice and put in half of the fresh thyme leaves and then stir a few more leaves through the hot rice when it has finished cooking.

Apparently in the old days Rendang could be stored in a cool place for as long as a month, but still every time I made it it was eaten in a flash – so there might be at most a lick left over the next morning.

I’d love to hear about your yellow splash experiences if you decide to try this dish.

  • Gerhardus lives in England with his heart in South Africa. He regularly prepares large meals for the church, hosts cooking workshops at his home, such as how to make your own miso, and picks more flowers and fruit each year than he can ever eat himself. So he regularly distributes jam, syrup and other tasty things to friends. He learned to bake bread in a German bakery and is actively involved in the Oxford Food Symposium on Food & Cookery. Send Gerhardus an e-mail at gerhardus.geldenhuis@gmail.com.