I have an awesome Beef Rendang recipe I learned from a local. The balance and depth of flavors of rendang is really remarkable considering it doesn’t contain all that many ingredients, but it does have one major drawback: it literally takes hours to make. I wanted to see if I could make a rendang with as much flavor as the original, that comes together faster, and with less steps.
The first thing I did was swap chicken in for beef, as chicken will become fork-tender much faster than any other meat. To ensure the chicken doesn’t dry out, I used legs (thighs and drumsticks), instead of breast meat. Using boneless chicken, will cook faster, but it won’t have the same depth of flavor as Chicken Rendang made with the bones. My compromise was to use a cleaver to chop the thighs and drumsticks into smaller pieces, which helps the chicken cook faster, while retaining all the flavor.
After browning the chicken, you’ll notice a lot of oil in the pan. It may be tempting to dump some out, but don’t do it. The paste really needs a lot of oil to brown evenly, otherwise it will burn before it caramelizes. If the amount of oil really bothers you, you can skim some off with a spoon after you’ve added the coconut milk and chicken. Just be sure to leave a little bit of oil as some of it is needed to caramelize the sauce around the chicken in the last step.
Most rendang recipes have you add aromatics like lemongrass and galangal both whole, as well as in the spice paste. It’s extra work that’s not necessary as running them through the food processor releases plenty of flavor, while reducing the amount of prep needed for the ingredients.
One exception to this is the garlic. Processing garlic together with shallots can occasionally cause an undesirable reaction that turns the paste a greenish color and makes it taste bitter. By handling the garlic separately you can avoid this problem and it doesn’t create a meaningful increase in the amount of work.
Finally I’ve added kerisik (roasted coconut) to the rendang at the end. This not only imparts a wonderful nutty taste, it also absorbs any remaining liquid, allowing you to caramelize the sauce around the chicken much faster.
These time-saving tricks allowed me to put this together in just under one hour, which puts it in reach of a weeknight dinner, but like the beef version, this Chicken Rendang taste better the next day. That makes it a perfect make-ahead dish for a lazy Sunday, which you can then reheat and enjoy during the week.
for spice paste
- Put the shallots, galangal, lemongrass, ginger, chili flakes, salt and turmeric in a small food processor or blender and puree, adding a bare minimum of water as necessary to keep the paste spinning.
Heat the oil in a large heavy bottomed pan over medium heat and add the chicken, skin-side down and then add the garlic in the gaps between the chicken. Thoroughly brown the skin-side of the chicken and then transfer to a bowl.
- Add the spice paste to the pan you used to brown the chicken. Fry the spice paste until the paste is very thick, caramelized and fragrant. Stir-constantly to ensure even caramelization and to prevent the paste from burning to the pan.
- Return the chicken to the pan and add the coconut milk and coconut sugar. Adjust the heat down to maintain a gentle simmer and cook the chicken until it is tender, about 30 minutes. Be sure to stir the rendang regularly, especially towards the end as it will burn.
- If at this point you feel like there's too much oil, you can use a spoon to skim some off as it floats to the top.
- While the chicken cooks, add the grated coconut to a dry frying pan, and roast, stirring constantly until the coconut has browned and is very fragrant. Transfer the coconut to a bowl and set aside until the chicken is done.
- Once the chicken is tender and there is very little sauce remaining, turn up the heat to medium and add the toasted coconut and kaffir lime leaves.
- Stir-fry the rendang until the sauce has caramelized into a thick coating around the chicken (about 10 more minutes). Serve the Chicken Rendang with rice.