5 Ways to Make Great Rendang

5 Ways to Make Great Rendang

What’s not to love about rendang? Malaysian chef Ili Sulaiman offers some tips on how to make this classic favorite and shares why this dish holds a special place in her heart

Rendang is a special culturally rooted dish that is truly delicious. Served not only during festivities, it can also be enjoyed at auspicious gatherings and ceremonies in countries like Malaysia, Indonesia, Brunei and Singapore. Any occasion that calls for a feast - from Hari Raya to the birth of a child to weddings and even for funerals and religious gatherings - will most likely include a rendang dish. In some cultures, it is considered an honor to serve your guests with this wonderfully spiced braised meat dish. 

Why I Love Rendang

Beef Rendang

It is a traditional food that is truly embedded in my culture. There are so many variations of rendang. You can make it vegan friendly by adding tempeh and mushroom, or have it in your fried rice, or you can stick to the basics and keep it very traditional. Either way, each family, community, district or country has a recipe that is passed down from one generation to the next. Growing up, we used to host rendang tasting competitions amongst the families who lived on the street where I grew up. The prize? Just boasting rights for the rest of the year!

I also distinctly remember the process of making a traditional beef rendang at a Malay wedding. It took days to prepare the ingredients, honing in on dozens of women and men who put in many hours to cook the rendang in an open fire only for it to be served, eaten and enjoyed in less than a few minutes. The complexity of the ingredients and the amount of time and effort it takes to prepare and cook means that if someone cooks you rendang, it's a true labor of love.

Tips on Making Rendang

Mushroom and Tempeh Rendang by Ili Sulaiman.

Let’s be honest. Everyone probably already has their own way of making rendang and knows that the amount of effort required to cook it can seem pretty daunting at times. Rather than tips, here are a few pointers I always keep in mind when I plan to cook rendang to make the experience a little smoother and a lot more enjoyable.

1. Take Your Time

Prawn Rendang by Ili Sulaiman.

Cooking rendang is an art and everyone knows you can’t rush art! Be prepared to set aside some time as it is a process that requires your attention at every step. Your patience will be rewarded when your teeth sinks into the juicy tender meat that has been slowly infused by your carefully crafted spice mix. Definitely worth the wait!

2. Prepare Rendang Paste in Advance

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However, if you want to save time, you can do so by making your paste in advance and storing it until you’re ready to use it. The paste can be placed in an airtight reusable container or a resealable bag and stored in the fridge for up to 1 month or in the freezer for up to 1 year!

3. Customize Your Spice Mix

Blending spices and aromatics for rendang paste.

The spices and aromatics make up the iconic flavors of the rendang so it’s safe to say they are some of the most important ingredients in the dish. From shallots, garlic, dried chilli, ginger and lemongrass to bold spices such as curry powder, coriander powder, cumin powder and fennel powder, these ingredients build on the flavor profile of the rendang and it’s important to find the perfect mix. While there are recipes to guide you to add the “right” amount, feel free to tweak till it’s suitable to your taste and your choice of protein.

4. All About That Coconut

Adding coconut cream to rendang paste.

Aside from the spices, the key to a good rendang is the richness that comes from the coconut cream and toasted coconut butter (also locally known as kerisik) so be sure to use the freshest of these ingredients! While you can easily get these items in good quality from the shops, it would be even better if you could prepare these ingredients yourself.

5. Sharing is Caring

Beef rendang

Good food is meant to be shared and since rendang is a dish that you can easily make in big batches, be sure to enjoy it with your friends, family and neighbours. Nothing can compare to the satisfaction of having someone enjoy the food you so lovingly prepared for them.

Food brings people together and in my case, rendang has given me the opportunity to share many unforgettable moments with my family and friends. Comment below or message me on my socials if you’d like to share your food-related memories with me. 

Ili Sulaiman is a Malaysian chef. She has several shows of her own, including Home Cooked: Malaysia; Family Feast with Ili, and authored the hot-selling cookbook, For the Love of Food. Follow her on all socials @ilisulaiman.

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