A Traditional Javanese Chicken Rendang – The 10 easy steps on making the best rendang.
Updated: Jan 22
5 years since my husband, our two kids and I packed and moved to Barcelona, my parents finally decided to take time off from their catering business in Kuala Lumpur and came to visit us here. I have to say that other than being super excited about them visiting, there was another thing that got me super-duper excited which was having my Mak’s home cooking for the next 2 weeks. YEAY!
Nothing can beat mom’s cooking am I right? NOTHING! Not even a Michelin star restaurant. Because there’s always something about mom’s cooking that hypnotizes us. It is a dish filled with love, happiness and comfort. And this is my Mak’s secret weapon to guilt me from leaving every time when I’m back home in Kuala Lumpur. Seeing that this was a great opportunity to sharpen my cooking skills on those traditional Malaysian dishes, I had my mom showed me how to make the quintessential Malaysian dish, which is Rendang. Not just any kind of rendang, but the traditional spicy Javanese Rendang.
Rendang comes from the Indonesian word ‘merendang’ which is a specific method of slow cooking thought up by the people of Minangkabau, Indonesia. It is traditionally served at ceremonial occasions to honor guests during festive events such as weddings, Hari Raya (eid fitri) or Hari Raya Haji. And as tradition, the rendang is always cooked with beef, coconut milk, shredded coconut, blended dried chilis (soaked overnight) traditional herbs and the pemasak.
So, what is a pemasak?
A pemasak is the spice mixture of rendang which consist of shallots, the 3 G’s (garlic, ginger, galangal), lemongrass, and turmeric (but wait!! Not any kind of powder form but LIVE TUMERIC! This is one of the key elements!).
Then there are the other dried ingredients. So, these ingredients are quite important because they are the subtle notes in this dish (also the first ingredient into the pot before the pemasak) in creating the amazing aroma. Skipping this, would be a huge mistake.
What is this ‘merendang’ method?
Technically, it’s a slow method of cooking, braising and churning the meat in coconut milk and pemasak over a small fire until the liquids evaporate. After 1-2 hours, you will see that the meat has turned dark brown, tender, caramelized and infused with the rich spices. Cooking the meat until tender with almost all the liquid evaporated requires great care as you need to keep it from getting burned. The method of ‘merendang’ requires a lot of patience as the process can be time consuming. So, if you’re thinking of cooking up something quick for your unexpected guests, rendang is definitely not the dish to tackle at the last minute. But once mastered the technique, the final outcome is so rewarding.
Why is this method any different compared to any other cooking method?
Prior to refrigeration technology, this style of cooking enabled the Minangkabau people to preserve their meat up to four weeks in a tropical climate. Its durability is one of the reasons that today prepackaged rendang are sent as food aid relief for natural disaster survivors in Indonesia.
There is nothing you can compare a Rendang to as it has such a distinct blended flavor unlike any other dish. As time passes, the traditional rendang recipe has evolved into many different types and also the possibility of substituting meat with other proteins.
Growing up in a mixed Javanese family, I am used to the classic dried rendang both beef and chicken that my great grandmother, my grandmother and my mother prepared. The true rendang is the dried one as it is cooked for hours and can last a very long time.
Note: Rendang is NOT A CURRY! At least to Indonesians.
The other similar dishes are the Gulai and the Kalio where this dish does not require a lot of braising and has more liquid. But I will go more in detail on this in another blog post.
In this blog post, I will share with you my family’s Traditional Javanese Chicken Rendang recipe and the 10 easy steps to cooking it.
Enjoy and selamat menjamu selera (bon appétit)!
Traditional Javanese Chicken Rendang
10 whole shallots
5 cloves of garlic
2 inches of ginger
2 inches of galangal
2 inches of live turmeric
10 pieces of chicken
½ tbsp of blended dried chilis / 1 tbsp of sambal olek
1 cup of vegetable oil
2 sticks of lemongrass
1 cinnamon stick
3- 4 cardamom
2 star anise
450ml of coconut milk
1 pieces of dried tamarind
1 handful of salt
1 handful of sugar
1 cup of shredded coconut
1. Blend together all the ingredients in a blender to create the pemasak until it becomes a paste. Make sure not to use too much water when blending as we do not want the pemasak to be too runny. Once done, you can put that to the side and clean out that blender to blend the next ingredient.
2. Blend the dried chili with some water until it becomes a thick paste. Caution of how much water is used when blending. Start with ¼ cup of water and then gradually add more if needed.
TIP: If you’re not comfortable on boiling dried chilis, you can opt to using sambal olek. You might need to cook the chili a bit longer as sambal olek most of the time contains vinegar which is used for preserving the chilis. You do not want a mild taste of vinegar to linger in your rendang.
3. Next, toast the shredded coconut in a frying pan under medium heat until the color changes to a nice toasty brown. Be careful to not let it burn!
4. With the lemongrass, cut off the top half of the stick. Keep the bottom half of the lemongrass. The strongest flavor of the lemongrass is at the bottom. And to get that flavor, you will need to smash the bottom by using the butt of the knife.
TIP: Get your dried ingredients ready as well. In a small bowl, have the cinnamon stick, cardamom and star anise ready with the lemongrass.
5. With the pemasak and base ingredients ready, heat up a pot / wok on high heat. Put in 1/2 cup of the vegetable oil first and save the other half for later.
6. Once the oil is heated up, throw in the dry ingredients with the lemongrass and toss them around for a minute. Then add in the pemasak and stir them well together for 5-6 minutes until the fragrance starts to rise.
7. Now add in the blended chilis and stir it around from time to time for another 5-6 minutes until the chili’s starts to release its own oil.
8. One at a time, put the chicken into the pot and then stir it around to coat the chicken well with the ingredients. Keep stirring until the chicken starts to release its juices and changes in size (shrink).
9. Slowly add in ¾ of the coconut milk to help the chicken to cook a little more. This helps the chicken from drying up too much. Then add in the rest of the coconut milk and turn down the heat to low. Now, we leave the chicken to continuously slow cook, stirring it around for a bit and checking it from time to time.
10. Lastly, you add in the sugar, salt and dried tamarind. Continue cooking under low heat until the liquid has 40% evaporated slightly and that there is minimal oil covering the top. Then you’re ready to serve this amazing dish!
Depending on how much chili added into this dish, you could either end up with minimal oil or a lot. The oil comes from the chili itself, so don’t worry if this is what you end up with. You can easily remove the oil by scooping them out with a ladle.
Now that you’ve cooked your very first rendang, do let me know how it went and don’t hesitate to ask me before or even after cooking this dish of any concerns you have. Post your finished work and on Instagram and don’t forget to tag me at @kitchenwarrior_bcn.
Selamat menjamu selera!