I'd totally forgotten about my freezer and its store of fantastic leftovers.
I got home cold, tired and hungry again and was getting ready to make another pot (no a bowl won't do it) of lazy ABC soup. It's been 5 days of soup, and though I've made these soups in as many variations as this country's range of winter produce will allow, I must admit I've been slurping the soup up with much less enthusiasm day by day. I know not many people can say this next satement, so I say it with smug relish: How nice then, to discover in the depths of your freezer, the last ziplock bag of ox cheek and venison rendang.
Venison actually works great here because it's pretty similar to beef; being wild, it's as organic as you can get, but much more sustainable for the environment. Unfortunately though, wild venison is also incredibly lean, wonderful for the cholestrol-conscious but not so wonderful when you're trying to make a rich rendang. The ox cheeks here are absolutely necessary to balance the venison shanks (and don't worry, it's proven fat is good for you anyway), both these cheaper, tougher cuts transforming into melting tenderness with eight hours of patient loving care.
OX CHEEK AND VENISON RENDANG
(or BEEF RENDANG)
Recipe with help from my friend's Malay aunt, Goz and Charlene.*
serves 6-8 people, as a side
500g ox cheek from happy cows (chopped into 1 inch cubes)
300g wild venison shanks + bones* (meat chopped into 1 inch cubes, bones into pot-fitting sizes)
1 stick cinnamon (cassia bark)
4 star anise
6 cardamom pods, bashed
2 lemongrass, white part only, bashed and thinly sliced
12 kaffir lime leaves, bashed and thinly sliced
500ml thick coconut milk
200ml water (may top up more)
3 tbsp tamarind pulp, soaked in warm water to get the juices
about 2 tsp unrefined sea salt (adjust to taste)
about 1/4 cup unrefined palm/brown sugar (adjust to taste)
1/4 cup dessicated coconut
2 tbsp coconut oil
For the rempah (spice paste)
200g shallots (or onions)
1 bulb of garlic
4 lemongrass, white part only
12 dried red chillies, soaked in warm water and deseeded
3 tbsp melted coconut oil, or groundnut oil
chopped fresh coriander
1. Pound/blend the ingredients for the rempah till you get a smooth paste.
2. Add coconut oil to a large oven-proof cast iron casserole pot, and over medium heat, fry the rempah along with the other whole spices, stirring, till aromatic and of a delicious brown (but not burnt) colour.
3. Add the beef, venison, bones, and pounded lemongrass and saute for another 5-10 minutes. You might have to do this in batches.
4. Add the coconut milk, water, tamarind water, kaffir lime leaves, salt, sugar, bring to a boil, and then cover and let it remain cooking in the oven at 150 degrees celsius for about 7 hours. Check every 1-2 hours, give it a nosy poke and stir to make sure everything gets coated in the sauce, topping up with more water as needed.
5. For the kerisik, toast the dessicated coconut over a medium hot pan, shaking and stirring constantly so it doesn't burn. Remove from heat just as it turns a pale golden because it will continue cooking to a golden brown off the heat. Pound and grind till you get an oily paste. Stir this in midway through the cooking.
6. The meat should be tender and near falling apart when you jab at it, and the sauce, thick and rich, but not entirely dried up. Taste for seasoning, adding more salt/sugar if necessary. Finish with a sprinkling of fresh coriander, and serve with nasi lemak (coconut rice), or just plain rice really; this packs enough punch on its own.
Additional notes and credits
* Auntie told me about the spices. Although I must add, Asian cooking is very much agak-agak. And the kerisik, the toasted coconut paste that's an essential to any fragrant rendang.
* Goz turned this into a much less harrowing experience by using the oven. The oven keeps everything at a steady heat without the worry of it over-caramelising, i.e. burning at the bottom. Your electricity/gas bills might come as a mini shock though. He also uses thick sweet dark soy sauce to make the rendang darker, which I've decided not to include in the recipe, but which I did use for the supperclub.
* For a normal beef rendang, just replace the venison and bones with the same weight of beef short ribs instead of going all cheek; there is such a thing as too rich. Cheeks for the gelatinous richness, ribs (and their bones) for bite and flavour, almost like a stock. Charlene the anal Cordon Bleu graduate came up with the perfect portions of fatty cheek to ribs. (Goz argues he came up with it too. First.)
If you're a fan of rich beef stews, and a fan of aromatic curries, this is pretty much the happy intersection between the two. The spices, the toasted coconut, the slow cooking, altogether make for melt-in-your-mouth, intense flavours. It's a fair bit of work but worth every effort, especially since leftovers only get more delicious in the fridge, and ridiculously delicious when discovered in the back of your freezer when you come home cold, tired and hungry.