This is a recipe for dry pork rendang. It’s not curry. There is no such thing as curry in authentic Asian cooking. Curry is a term coined by the British to give a name to the spicy sauces prevalent in South Asian dishes.
While rendang spice base can be bought ready-to-use, I prefer to grind the spices to marinate the pork in. Using a mortar and pestle is traditional (many cooks claim that manually grinding the spices releases oils and flavor better) but it’s not a crime to use a blender or a food processor.
What you should not skip is the actual marinating. I do this overnight in the fridge. We’re not cooking ground pork here and, with the size of the pork cubes, it will take some time for them to soak up the flavors in the spice base. So, overnight is best.
The next day, heat up some oil, saute onion, lemongrass and cinnamon then brown the pork in the flavorful oil until the meat loses its raw appearance and the surfaces are starting to brown.
Pour in coconut milk and tamarind paste, add desiccated coconut (if freshly ground mature coconut, you will need to dry fry it first), fish sauce and sugar and stir well to make sure that the seasonings are evenly distributed.
Now the slow cooking begins. Simmer the pork, tasting the sauce occasionally and adjusting the seasonings as needed, until the color deepens and the pork is tender.
If you prefer wet rendang, you may serve the pork while the sauce is still spoonable. But because this is dry rendang, once the pork is tender, the pan is uncovered and the cooking continues until the mixture is quite dry.
Pork and marinade
- 8 cloves garlic - peeled
- 4 to 6 bird’s eye chilies
- 1 teaspoon coriander seeds
- 1 teaspoon black peppercorns
- 6 to 8 shallots - peeled
- 1 one-inch piece turmeric - peeled, or 1 teaspoon turmeric powder
- ¼ teaspoon cumin seeds
- 1 teaspoon crushed galangal
- ¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
- 1 kilo stewing pork - I recommend belly, neck or shoulder, cut into two-inch cubes
To cook the pork rendang
- 3 tablespoons cooking oil
- 1 onion - chopped
- 2 stalks lemongrass - white part only, bruised
- 2 sticks cinnamon
- 2 pairs kaffir lime leaves - deveined and thinly sliced
- 4 to 5 cups coconut milk - fresh, canned or hydrated coconut powder
- 2 tablespoons tamarind paste
- ⅓ cup desiccated coconut - or 1/2 cup freshly grated coconut, dry fried until lightly browned
- fish sauce - to taste
- sugar - to taste
- 6 tablespoons sliced scallions
Make the spice paste
- In an oil-free pan, toast the garlic, chilies, coriander seeds, peppercorns, shallots, turmeric and cumin seeds.
- Transfer to a blender, add the crushed galangal and nutmeg. Process with a couple of tablespoonfuls of water to form a paste.
Marinate the pork
- Place the pork in a shallow bowl.
- Pour in the spice paste.
- Mix and work the spice paste into the meat.
- Cover and keep overnight in the fridge.
Cook the rendang
- Heat the cooking oil in a thick-bottomed pan.
- Saute the chopped onion, lemongrass and cinnamon sticks.
- Add the pork to the hot oil and cook until lightly browned along the edges.
- Add the kaffir lime leaves.
- Pour in the coconut milk and tamarind extract.
- Add the desiccated coconut. Stir.
- Season with fish sauce and sugar.
- Cover and simmer for an hour to an hour and a half (or longer) or until the pork is tender. Stir occasionally and remember to scrape the bottom of the pan. Taste occasionally as well and add more fish sauce or sugar, or both, as needed.
- Uncover the pan. Add half of the sliced scallions. Turn up the heat and continue cooking, stirring and scraping the bottom of the pan often, until the pork rendang is dry.
- Serve the pork rendang with more sliced scallions over hot rice.