Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Indonesian Style Beef Brisket Rendang

Oh, ya know, sometimes I just need to shake it up! Big Mary’s been cooking without a major audience for several months now. Much as I don’t miss the daily grind of shoveling hotel pans of tilapia and pounds of pasta salad of the day out the door, I must confess to falling into a routine of home cooking that doesn’t exactly keep my tasting spoon at the ready.

That is why, when faced with a lovely, beefy cut of brisket the other day, I stopped myself from grabbing the classic mirepoix and instead sat myself down in front of my library. If you are anything like me, you have cookbooks you’ve forgotten you ever bought, let alone really read. Case in point, Fire & Spice – 200 Hot & Spicy Recipes from the Far East by Jackie Passmore. When I first found this book, (in a marked down section of some used bookstore no doubt), I was immediately drawn to the HUGE flavor profile all of the recipes have. If you’ve ever graced my table, you know I’m no timid flower when it comes to flavor. So, all her talk of Asian chilies, sambals, lemongrass, kaffir lime, Szechuan peppercorn and coconut milk were a siren’s song of Southeast Asian seduction to me.

That being said, one I managed to resist for years, given the build up of dust on the binding! Nevertheless, there I was, brisket in hand, searching for inspiration. Oh Lord, what a picture! I was caught by her recipe for Beef Rendang, a dish I’d made years ago for an Indonesian ristafell. Beef Rendang is normally a somewhat dry, braised dish of beef strips, glazed by a reduction of coconut milk, spices and onion. Why not, I thought, treat my beautiful brisket in this manner. Turns out, it was an inspired perversion. Here is my Indonesian Beef Brisket freely adapted from her recipe.

Beef Brisket “Rendang”

2 ½ pounds beef brisket, cleaned and trimmed
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
salt and pepper (szechuan pepper if possible)
2 small dried bay leaves
1 1/3 cups coconut milk
1 small tomato - peeled, seeded, chopped (or ½ cup canned diced tomato)
1 tablespoon dark soy sauce
¼ teaspoon whole szechuan peppercorns
1 ½ teaspoon whole coriander seed
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 ½ teaspoon whole cumin seed
1 medium onion – chopped (1 very generous cup)
2 medium garlic cloves – chopped
1 stalk lemongrass – cleaned and tender section chopped
2 tablespoons fresh ginger – peeled and minced
2 tablespoons cilantro stems
1 teaspoon Sriracha hot sauce
1 tablespoon tamarind paste (thick Indian style)
1 tablespoon dark brown sugar
¼ cup cilantro leaves, chopped

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.
Preheat a medium skillet over high heat. Season the brisket with salt and pepper. Heat the oil in skillet and brown brisket on both sides to a rich deep brown color.
Transfer beef brisket to an oven proof dish with lid. Add 1 cup coconut milk, bay leaves, tomato and soy sauce. Cover dish and put in the oven for 15 minutes.
In the meantime, toast Szechuan peppercorns, coriander seed and cumin seed in a dry skillet over high heat. Set aside to cool and grind in spice grinder until finely ground. Add ground cinnamon.
Put prepared onion, garlic, lemongrass, ginger, cilantro stems, spices and Sriracha sauce into a blender. Add remaining 1/3 cup coconut milk. Process until smooth.
Heat a sauté pan and add the onion coconut milk mixture. Simmer over medium heat for 5 minutes or so. Sauce will darken slightly.
Remove beef from the oven after the 15 minutes, and add the onion coconut milk mixture. Pour the mixture over the beef, stir to combine and return to oven for another 2 ½ hours or so. Beef Brisket should be fork tender.
Remove from oven and stir in Tamarind paste and brown sugar. When cooled 30 minutes or so remove brisket and slice thinly across the grain. Serve with re-warmed sauce from the casserole and basmati rice. Garnish with chopped cilantro leaves.
Note: can be made 1 or 2 days in advance and reheated.

You’ll still want to make your Mamaw’s version of Braised Brisket when that’s what you want, but this will likely become your alternate version for “shaking it up”.
Contented Eating and Inspired Cooking my sweets.
Big Mary