Lamb Rack Rendang
I love rendang and cook it as often as I could. The ones available outside somewhat doesn’t make the cut, no pun intended. Even those available at the really good Nasi Padang stalls at Geylang Serai often end up dry and fibrous. The usual suspects for my homecooked rendang is beef shin or chicken thighs but recently I was given two lovely racks of lamb by Pure South so I thought to myself why not turn them into rendang! I am so glad I did!
The rempah/bumbu rendang ingredients are pretty standard, a blend of local herbs, cooking roots and spices. I like to keep my rendang simple and more lemak than pedas so an elaborated spice mix like the one required for Rendang Tok from Perak is not used. Nonetheless, a good rendang still require a decent spread of ingredients to provide a rich sauce base for the meat to bathe in…
When it comes to lamb racks, the first thing that comes naturally to one’s mind is to just season them simply before grilling them. That is indeed a really gratifying way of eating lamb racks, enjoying the sheer juicy and tender textures these cuts provide. Yet another side me one wants to return back to my Asian roots and experiment with the classics to see if it works.
Some of the rempah ingredients I’d used, customary to the cooking of rendang. Serai (lemongrass) is bruised and knotted instead of blending into the paste itself. This way, its flavours and aromas are subtly introduced and coaxed along with the remaining rempah ingredients, gently felt instead of being in an obtrusive way. Garlic together with shallots and onions lend their natural sweetness teased out over prolonged cooking and also aid in the caramelisation of the sauce which gives a good rendang its unique flavours.
Normally, I would add gula melaka (palm sugar) to my rendang, not so much as to sweeten the sauce but instead to balance the flavours. But since dried middle eastern dates are in abundance during the Ramadan/Hari Raya-Eid season, I switched to adding dates instead which I feel would not only be able to replace gula melaka but also add depth to the sauce.
Instead of cooking the dish directly over the stove, I opt for a two-part cooking process where I did the sauteeing and initial cooking of the rempah and the lamb over the stove but finished it off in the oven. The uniform yet comparatively less direct heating simulates the slow and low-heat cooking process which is advocated in traditional Indonesian cooking to kick off the caramelisation of the rendang gravy. It worked beautifully.
And while the rendang is slowly cooked in the oven for 2-3 hours, I slipped out of the house and made my way to Geylang Serai market to gather the remaining ingredients I need to complete my feast. Bought some brinjal to cook a really quick version of sambal terong at home while I packed takeaways for Urap and my favorite Sayur Nangka Masak Lemak. To make the meal extra wholesome, I’d gotten some ketupat as well which went beautifully with the rendang gravy. By the time I got home, the lamb rack rendang was done cooking, well rested and all ready to be enjoyed… and it was absolutely delish!
Lamb Rack Rendang (serves 4-6)
2 racks of lamb (around 1kg)
4-6 kaffir lime leaves, slightly bruised
1 cup of kerisik (toasted grated coconut), pounded
1 cup thick coconut milk or coconut cream
6-8 dried dates, coarsely chopped
1 cup cooking oil
Salt to taste
5 red chilies, chopped coarsely
10 dried red chilies, soaked in hot water until soft
5 buah keras (candlenut)
15 shallots, peeled and sliced
5 cloves garlic, peeled and sliced
thumb length knob of ginger, sliced
thumb length knob of tumeric root, sliced
thumb length knob of galangal, sliced
4 stalks of lemongrass, lower 1/3 whitish portion only, sliced
Blend or pound all the rempah ingredients into a coarse paste.
Add cooking oil to a heated casserole over medium low heat and saute the rempah ingredients until fragrant and “pecah minyak“, i.e. when the rempah darkens considerably, starts to glisten as the oil begins to separate from the paste. Scoop up half of the rempah and leave to cool and freeze for future use.
Add bruised kaffir lime leaves and saute with the remaining half of the rempah in the pot. Add coconut cream, chopped dates, kerisik and mix well.
Add lamb racks and stir well so that the racks are well coated with the rempah.
Bring the ingredients to a boil and lower heat to low and allow to simmer uncovered for 15 min. Gently stir the ingredients periodically to make sure that everything is cooked evenly and does not stick to the bottom of the casserole.
Taste and adjust with salt accordingly.
Cover with lid and transfer the casserole to a preheated oven at 180C for 2 – 2.5 hours until the meat is fork tender. The longer the meat stays in the oven, the softer it gets.
Leave the casserole covered in the oven for another 30-40 mins.
Plate the lamb racks and serve with steamed rice or ketupat and other dishes.