I hosted my first ever Paleo supper club on Saturday. Yay! It was quite an experience…I spent weeks practising, trialling, shopping, preparing, practising again, trialling again, cooking. I learnt a heck of a lot though. To start with, cooking for paying customers is very different from cooking for friends and family. You have to put a lot more thought into menu, timings and balance of flavour. And you HAVE to take pictures of the food you cook. Which I didn’t. So I can’t really write a good post about the event itself and the actual food I cooked, although I did take a picture of the menu I prepared so you get an idea of what I made. Overall I think it went well – I had good feedback on the night and good feedback on the event website too.
One of the dishes I cooked was this rendang. The recipe is from a good family friend, Rodi, who is an excellent cook but a terrible recipe writer. In the sense that she never writes recipes down or even really has a sense how much stuff goes in. ‘How much coconut milk/garlic/ginger/chilli/lemongrass do you use for this, Rodi?’ ‘Oh you know, secukup [just enough].’ So the last time I was in Malaysia for a decent amount of time I followed her around the kitchen like a shadow and weighed and measured every ingredient before she was allowed to use it. It was the only way I was going to get a recipe approaching accuracy!
It’s taken a long time for Malaysian food to be recognised as the best food in the world (yes, I’m biased). But it is, I promise you! Malaysians spend a heck of a lot of their time eating or talking about food, so we know a thing or two about it. Eating out is a big part of the culture and people will drive for hours to get the best fried chicken/nasi lemak/mee curry as recommended by their best friend’s sister’s brother-in-law. Malaysian food has slowly crept it’s way into the British consciousness as supermarkets like Waitrose have started stocking Malaysian rendang ‘kits’, Pret have a ‘Malaysian Chicken soup’ and laksa is not an unknown word anymore. I suppose a big part of it is to do with Ping winning Masterchef in 2014 which was absolutely brilliant because I could see myself cooking some of her Malaysian dishes and tasting what the judges were tasting.
Rendang is probably the best known of Malaysian curries, and deservedly so. It’s fragrant, rich and pungent. Traditionally rendang is served on special occasions such as Hari Raya (Eid), when a cow or goat is ritually slaughtered and then cooked for the whole village. Now, it’s become an everyday food item and almost always features in a ‘deluxe’ nasi lemak. It’s usually made with beef or chicken, but in the spirit of nose-to-tail eating I highly recommend you use lamb’s heart. Let me be quite frank here – I don’t really like much offal. But I entreat you to try this – it’s nothing like liver, with a texture much more like meat but it keeps its shape well rather than disintegrating. The dish cooks very slowly for a long time, giving the strong muscle plenty of time to mellow and tenderise in the coconut milk. The longer you cook it, the more tender the heart becomes to the point where it almost melts in your mouth and completely loses it’s mineral, offaly flavour.
There are as many versions of rendang as there are states in Malaysia, and probably a different one for every mother/aunty/grandmother – everyone has their own interpretation on it. Coconut milk, lemongrass and galangal is just about the only common ingredients; beyond that, tradition, culture and personal preference takes over. The Northern states tend to use spices such as cinnamon, cloves and star anise in their rendang due to an Indian influence. The recipe that follows is characteristic of the Minangkabau region of Negeri Sembilan, the state I grew up in and definitely my personal favourite. The Minangkabaus migrated to Malaysia from Sumatra in Indonesia in the 15th century and brought with them a cuisine characterised by fragrant herbs and fresh flavours. Unusually for Malay cuisine, the Minangkabaus do not use curry spices in their cooking, relying on herbs and roots such as lemongrass, turmeric, galangal and ginger for flavour.
Please note: the long cooking time is essential for this dish, and you can’t really do it in the slow cooker as you need the full quantity of liquid, and you want it to evaporate over a long period of time to allow the meat to take on the flavours and the oil to eventually come out of the coconut.
Ingredients. Serves four.
- 1kg lamb’s heart (about 5 or 6 medium to large hearts; see note below) or stewing beef, cut into bite-sized pieces
- 400ml coconut milk
- 4 fresh kaffir lime leaves, finely shredded; if you can only find dried leaves use 6 and keep them whole
- 100g creamed coconut, chopped
- 6 shallots
- 8 cloves garlic
- 4 sticks lemongrass
- 1 inch fresh turmeric, or 1 teaspoon ground turmeric
- 1½ inch galangal
- 1½ inch ginger (if you can’t find galangal, use 2 inches of ginger)
- 15 dried chillies, soaked in hot water for 10 minutes and cut into small pieces, seeds removed
Method. Preparation time: 5 minutes. Cooking time: 4-5 hours.
- Roughly chop all of the ingredients for the spice paste and blend to a smooth paste in a high-powered blender. I use a handheld mixer in a narrow jug, which works well. You can add some water if it’s not blending very well.
- Place the meat into a large saucepan, add the spice paste and stir to mix. Add about 100ml of water and bring to a boil. Once the water starts coming out of the meat – when it starts looking wetter and the meat is no longer red raw – add the coconut milk. Bring to a boil again and then turn it down to a low simmer. Stir once in a while.
- After two hours, place the creamed coconut in a small saucepan and place it on a low heat. Allow the coconut to melt, stirring all the time. Keep cooking and stirring until it has turned a dark brown. Be very careful to continuously stir all the time to avoid it burning at the bottom!
- Add the browned creamed coconut (at this point it is known as kerisik in Malay) and the shredded kaffir lime leaves to the rendang and allow to simmer for two or three hours. At this point you need to be more vigilant and stir regularly. Once the liquid has evaporated enough and the meat is showing through it can catch and burn easily.
- The rendang is finished when it is beginning to look dry and the oil is released from the coconut.
I have found lamb’s heart in Sainsbury’s once or twice but it’s a bit hit and miss on the availability front. Your best bet is to call up your local butchers and order them in. It goes without saying that you should look for higher welfare meat. Although most lamb in the UK is largely grass fed, you would do good to source from a trustworthy butcher who can answer questions such as how the lamb was reared and what it was fed on. You want that heart to have supported a healthy, happy animal after all! My butcher happily orders them in for me the next day and rings to let me know their in but he will only sell them in packets of five or ten as no one else will buy them. Fine by me – stick them in the freezer for the next time! They’re so cheap – the first time I got a bag of ten for £8, the second time a bag of 5 for £5. The most time consuming aspect of this recipe is preparing the hearts themselves, so I took a few pictures to show what hearts look like before, during and after preparing.