Rendang-Seasoned Ground Beef over Pasta

Spice paste
3 cloves garlic, peeled
1 medium yellow onion, peeled
5 shallots, peeled
2 dried red chiles
2 fresh red chiles, seeded
1 1-inch piece of ginger
1 teaspoon ground turmeric
2 stalks lemongrass, tough outer layers removed, roughly chopped

Sauce & Assembly
4 tablespoons neutral oil, such as vegetable or grapeseed
1 pound ground beef (preferably chuck and 20% fat)
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon fennel seeds
1 cup coconut milk
2 teaspoons brown sugar
1/4 cup unsweetened dried coconut, toasted and blended to a paste
1 turmeric or pandan leaf, thinly sliced (optional)
8 ounces dried rigatoni

Blend all the ingredients for the spice paste in a food processor or a blender until finely minced. If needed, add a tablespoon or two of water to help the mixture blend smoothly. (Alternatively, you can pound them in a mortar and pestle.)

Pour the oil into a pot, and place it over medium heat, and heat until oil starts to shimmer. Add in the spice paste and sauté gently for 6-8 minutes, or until the paste is thickened and starting to stick.

Season the ground beef evenly with 1/2 tsp salt, cumin, coriander, and fennel, then add to the pot. Combine well with the paste, and cook until beef is lightly browned and the liquid has evaporated, about 5 minutes.

Add the coconut milk, 1?2 cup water, brown sugar and the remaining 1 1/2 teaspoons salt. Give it a quick stir, then turn the heat down to low. Let the rendang simmer for at least an hour, until the coconut milk turns thick and caramelizes, and the beef becomes soft and tender (like in a bolognese). Make sure to stir the pot every 10-15 minutes so the rendang doesn’t catch and burn on the bottom.

When the rendang is almost done—the gravy should be thick, like the consistency of relish—add in the coconut paste and sliced turmeric leaf, if using, and let simmer for a final 10 minutes. If not using the rendang immediately, let cool to room temperature, then store in the refrigerator for up to a week.

If having the rendang that same day, bring 4 quarts of well-salted water (estimating 1 tablespoon per quart of water) to a boil. Cook the rigatoni until al dente, then drain, reserving a cup of the pasta water.

Add the rigatoni to the rendang, and stir vigorously to bring the two together, adding pasta water if needed. Divide between bowls and serve.

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