We wish we could give you a simple formula to cook a perfect beef curry every time.
However, cooking is a personal thing, a ritual to be enjoyed and the closest most people will get to practicing chaos theory in their every day lives.
For someone to give you fail proof advice they'd need to specify:
- the breed of your cow
- the age of your cow
- the lifestyle of your cow
- the death your cow
- the handling of the meat after death
- the make, model and settings of your hob, oven or slow cooker
- the type of beef cuts you select,
- the size of beef cuts
- the direction of the beef cuts etc etc.
With that in mind all we can do is try and teach you a few nuggets that might help you level up your beef curry cooking.
To summarise this blog our guide for a good slow-cooked beef curry is:
- Enjoy the process and pay attention to what you did
- Buy these good quality cheap cuts of beef: neck, chuck, shank or flank
- No need to pre seal your beef - we add the beef on top of our onions in our Rendang recipe. You can then seal briefly but what's more important is to make sure your cooking liquid covers the beef (in our Rendang it's coconut milk).
- Cook with the lid on - this creates the perfect moist conditions for the connective tissue in your beef to break down and unlock the slow cooked flavours
- Buy a meat or cooking thermometer and test the temperature of your cooking liquid against the "settings" of your cooking equipment (oven, hob, slow cooker, pressure cooker, chosen pots etc.)
- Make sure you raise the temperature of your beef (that's the middle of the cuts) 70°C for at least 2 minutes - the blink of an eye in a slow cook marathon
- If you can hold the temperature of your cooking liquid 70°C - 80°C for 2 hours you're giving your beef great conditions
- Again learn how the "settings" of your cooking equipment effect your cooking liquid - don't assume the temperature you set your oven, hob or slow cooker to is the temperature that reaches and penetrates your beef
- Avoid aggressive simmering for too long and never bring your curry to the boil
- Cook for at least 2 hours with a lid on (unless you are doing our Rendang which calls for you to start evaporating the cooking liquid after an hour for purists none saucy version)
- Understand why you are slow cooking - meat actually dries out when you cook it - that the rich slow cooked flavour is actually dry meat that has been coated in broken down collagen that only breaks down with heat over long periods of time
- Be aware that some cuts are going to need more than 2 hours to reach their peak
- Slow cooking a curry the day before then gently reheating will for some reason always give better results
While these are our tips we accept that some people may want to do their own thing - like brown their beef first for example.
Because this post coincides with the launch of our Indonesian Beef Rendang curry kit we're going to give some practical advice for cooking this curry. The principles can be applied to any beef curry - we hope you find the information useful.
First let’s start right at the beginning, with a bit of a biology lesson (just a quick, short one we promise!)
What's the beef?
Ever thought what meat actually is? Meat is mostly muscle tissue. Meat/muscle is composed of bundles of tiny fibres which contain water, proteins, fats and minerals.
A rough guide is 75% water, 20% protein, 5% fat and the rest is made up of carbohydrates and minerals.
It's a connective tissue issue
Expert chefs and good beef curry recipes call for cuts with "high levels of connective tissue".
There are a few types of connective tissue in and around our meat that we need to be aware of:
- tendons connect muscles to bones
- ligaments connect bones to each other
- white fibrous tissue, sometimes called silverskin which surrounds whole muscles like an envelope - this helps different muscle groups glide over one another
- individual muscle fibres are encased in connective tissue
Two types of connective tissue: Collagen & Elastin
Collagen and Elastin are both proteins but they behave differently when cooked.
What cooking temperature does Collagen break down at?
Best cuts for beef curry and Beef Rendang
For the iconic Beef Rendang we wanted to give some advice on which cut of beef works best. We've looked at some recipe sites we hold in high regard and are happy to share their recommendations:
Beef shanks or short ribs
Beef shanks are great for slow-braising as it has connective tissue and fat that breaks down during the lengthy cooking process - resulting in meltingly tender meat when served with your fragrant and delicious sauce. In this Beef Rendang recipe, Judy Won (featured in Anthony Bourdain’s Parts Unknown) recommends Beef Shanks.
Chuck is juicy, flavourful, and versatile with the fatty juices providing a rich, delicious curry. Plus, the chuck steak is easy to cut into small pieces, so it cooks quickly and evenly. Chuck steak seems to be a popular choice for slow cooked beef curries and were upvoted by Reddit’s resident Rendang expert Anton Taiki and the Steak School.
The Gourmet Traveller also opts for chuck steak adding, "choose beef cuts with plenty of connective tissue, such as oyster blade, gravy beef and shin meat".
If you’re not a butcher all these cuts can be a little daunting, especially when you need to decipher all the different names used in the UK, USA and in classical French cuisine.
Let’s drill down on the names mentioned above:
Refers to marbled muscle that comes from the chuck or shoulder blade section of the cattle. It’s located below the shoulder blade, and it presents a tough, long line of connective tissue (gristle) running through the middle.
For beef-based curries, tough cuts of meat like the oyster blade will give you the best results. When braised for hours on end, the connective tissue and flavoursome meat create an irresistibly tender yet rich texture that other cuts just can’t replicate.
Gravy beef and shin meat
We’d heard of shin but not gravy meat. Turns out Gravy beef can comprise the hind leg and front leg (also known as shin), as well as the neck area. Shin meat is also a good option when it comes to slow-cooked dishes - since the lean cuts need liquid and heat for several hours to become tender.
Running low on time? Try flank steak or skirt
I was doing a Beef Rendang tasting at Darts Farm and only had two hours until the event, I asked Ian (one of Dart’s farm many master butchers) and he recommended this to me and it was lovely and tender, unfortunately, I didn’t have time to reduce all the sauce away but it still went down a treat with the punters. Flank steak is a leaner option with less collagen – it won't produce quite as much flavour, but requires less time to cook and is suitably flavourful.
This is such a good video if you want to geek out on the difference between braising and stewing - essential techniques for your curry locker.
it also explains what happens when you heat collagen which you are already an expert on..
Braising is a combination of covered roasting and steaming where the cooking liquid doesn't cover the meat. Braising is reserved the cheap cuts of meat we've been talking - i.e. the ones with high levels of connective tissue and collagen.
Typically the meat will be seared/browned first - sometimes called sautéing.
The only thing that failed our fact check in the video is that the term braise originates from French word for "live coals" not "dieing coals".
Sautéing is a method of dry-heat cooking that uses a hot pan and a small amount of fat to cook food quickly. When we brown meat for a curry or a tagine we're not actually cooking it. What we're doing is trying to achieve the "Maillard reaction".
For as long as man has cooked they've known that foods take on new flavours and aromas as they brown. In 1913 Louis Maillard figured out why.
Under high heat carbon atoms from reducing sugars such as lactose, glucose and fructose combine with nearby amino acids to form new compounds and these compounds taste good (or at least different).
The Maillard reaction happens when you sear steaks, toast marshmallows, make toast, roast coffee beans, make chocolate, brew beer etc, etc.
Tip: Sear meat for the Maillard not the moisture.
It's now generally accepted that searing your meat for a short while on a high heat (until it browns) does not lock in moisture.
The slow cooking of meat submerged in a cooking fluid.
Tips for slow cooking beef curry
There's no right or wrong way, but our method for slow cooking beef for our Rendang and lamb for our Moroccan Tagine for that matter is to add the raw meat directly into the cooking fluid:
- coconut milk for our beef rendang and
- Moroccan Boom Base stock for our lamb tagine
We could brown the meat first for the Maillard effect but we don't bother because we're more interested in letting the flavours of our spices talk and tenderising the meat.
Slow but safe
You need to make sure you cook your beef at a high enough temperature to kill microorganisms.
Time and temperature matters. Current guidance from the Food Standards Agency is 70°C for 2 minutes.
Safe time and temperature cooking combinations
- 60°C for 45 minutes
- 65°C for 10 minutes
- 70°C for 2 minutes
- 75°C for 30 seconds
- 80°C for 6 seconds
Check the FSA link above to make sure these times and temps haven't been updated.
Useful temps for curry cookers
- 72°C - Most collagen and connective tissue breaks down nicely
- 85°C - 96°C - you don't want to exceed 85°C for too long in slow curries
- 100°C - boiling point - too hot!
Don't boil you're cooking fluid
Our advice would be to invest in a good digital meat thermometer because that is your best chance at heating your meat to a safe temperature without overheating it.
Temperature of simmer point
Those signature simmer-point, tiny-bubbles - normally kick in at 85°C - 96°C so by the time you see these you're know you're reaching a a good temp to start to kill the nasties in your beef. What you don't want is to keep an aggressive simmer going for longer than is necessary - once you've got your biggest chunk of beef past 70°C for a couple of minutes you can ease off the gas.
'Why it's good not to over heat your meat
The higher the cooking temperature, the tougher the muscle fibers become. When you cook meat for a long time the muscle tissue actually gets dry. The reason that slow cooked meat can taste so tender and juicy is because the collagen breaks down to gelatin that coats the muscle fibres.
Best temperature to encourage connective tissue and collagen breakdown
At 72°C collagen and connective tissue breaks down nicely but it takes time - our advice would be a minimum of two hours to give those natural juices time to work their magic and give your dish that delicious richness that's tough to top. Don't forget to taste and test as you go.
If you're after something a bit burlier, braising cubes of leaner beef over high heat will give you that classic char and smoky concentrated flavour. So whatever your preference we’re certain our Rendang kit with it's fresh whole and ground spices will knock your socks .
The much loved Beef Rendang
This news may be a little old, but still worth a mention: in 2011 Beef Rendang was crowned the world’s best food in a CNN poll with over 35,000 readers.
So what’s all the fuss about?
The beef Rendang, if prepared correctly, should resemble the scene of a Thai green curry truck that has hit a run away beef cattle herd - where the resulting spillage and beef carnage has been swept to the side of a scorching West Sumatra road, and left to bake for a couple of days.
Image Credit Norecipes.com
Tips for slow cooking Beef Rendang
A Rendang starts its life looking like a beef curry but only becomes a Rendang when all the sauce has evaporated. The final stage is to fry what remains of the sauce so that it caramelises and sticks to the meat.
TV chef Marc Matsumoto recalls the Rendang advice Judy Wong (as seen in Anthony Bourdain’s Singapore episode):
1) Rendang is not Rendang if it has a sauce
2) Rendang always tastes better the next day
Image credit: No Recipes
In the recipes we've found there are two schools in the way the beef is cooked.
The first method involves browning the beef in oil at the beginning.
The second method, and the way we were taught, skips this stage and adds the raw beef on top of the frying spices, onions, garlic, and ginger ensemble to be slow cooked - 1 hour lid on, 2 hours lid off.
We’re pleased to see we’re in good company with this method adopted by Azlin Bloor and her mother.
Boom Kitchen’s Beef Rendang
Boom’s Rendang is our 8th curry kit in 10 years.
Our Rendang originates from the bustling gangs (alleyways) of Bali. In particular, one alleyway in Kuta called Poppies Gang which gives our kit its name.
The recipe can be prepped in 20 minutes, cooked in 2 and a half hours, and will serve 4 delightfully satisfied family members or friends.
The image above shows the 1st hour of the cook - it's not a true Rendang yet because of all that sauce that needs to be slowly evaporated away.
That's a wrap
So there you have it – everything you need to know about making the perfect beef Rendang curry at home.
Here are the different takes on this recipe for you to explore:
If all of these recipes seem like too much effort, don’t worry! We’ve got you covered.
Simply place your order for our brand new Beef Rendang Curry Kit, and we will do all the hard work for you. All you need to do is follow the simple instructions and enjoy a delicious homemade Beef Rendang curry.