Sunday, October 14, 2007

Glorious rendang

Cooked over a slow fire, the luscious pieces of meat or chicken are worth waiting for to savour with the delicious thick gravy over rice or bread.

ONCE, it was a necessity to ensure that meat was cooked long and over slow fire to ensure the measure of luxury would last for a long time and benefit as many people as possible.

Today, rendang is a dish that is never left out of any occasion, be it religious festivals or just an ordinary meal for friends who come over for a bite.

No doubt, every hand that makes rendang is different and in Malaysia, every state guards its recipe as if it was the national treasure.

Rendang also goes well with lemang and ketupat.

A decade or two ago, rendang was a dish that was served during Hari Raya festivities to mark the end Ramadan, or the end of the Haj when the sacrifice of cattle were observed.

What used to be served in the homes of Muslims has become national food served at all festivals and in all homes, be it Malay, Chinese, Indian or others.

While there is a long and short way of achieving the ultimate goal of getting a rendang dish to the table, it is the end result that justifies the effort.

Rarely has any one food gotten so much of reverence as rendang, where leftovers are lovingly hoarded and kept in the freezer for months later when they would then be the main ingredients of nasi goreng or spicy noodles here.

The basic ingredients for rendang are dried chillies that have been boiled until they are soft (or, for those in a hurry, chilli powder can be used), onions (or, for a better and fuller flavour, shallots), garlic, lemongrass, galangal, ginger, turmeric (root and leaves), and not to forget the main ingredient that makes it sinfully luscious – thick copious amounts of coconut cream and pounded roasted coconut.

The most basic method would be to put everything into a large cauldron and cook it for several hours over a small fire, or better still on a charcoal stove. But again, the method is largely governed by who taught you your style of rendang and what suits your way best.

From years of slaving over the fire, cooking rendang from scratch, I find it one of the easiest dishes to make and that this favourite dish has now also become one of the everyday must-haves at home or in restaurants.

Instant sauces are now available on supermarket and provision shop shelves for those in a hurry and wanting to cook small amounts of the dish.

However, many would tell you, the best is the one cooked in the traditional and authentic way as it is the hours and not the skill that actually determines the taste of your rendang.

No matter what the ingredients are, it is when the meat separates from the bone or from its own grain cleanly and the oil from the coconut cream surfaces that it is the most perfect rendang you have on your hands.

A word of caution, though, because of the coconut cream, the rendang, if there are leftovers, must be kept refrigerated or frozen and heated through well if you don’t want to end up with a bad case of diarrhoea or food poisoning.

Rendang, while good with rice, is best eaten with lemang (glutinous rice cooked with coconut cream in a bamboo), ketupat or nasi impit (compressed rice cakes), breads, thosais, chappati or roti canai. Truly, the list is endless.

No matter how you want to enjoy rendang, it is ultimately the gourmet in you that decides how good this dish is.

During this fasting month, rendang is available at almost all Ramadan bazaars and buka puasa buffets, and chefs are known to try and outdo their counterparts in other hotels and restaurants with their own version of rendang and that of those peculiar to the states.

Some rendang may be dry and will have no gravy at all while some would be covered with thick, lovely gravy that instantly opens up your appetite to eat away as much as you can. No matter which you chose, it is every cook’s hope that you enjoy this national Malaysian dish to its last scrap!

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