this dish is inspired by a dish we tried on an island in malaysia a couple of years ago. every day, this family of women from a neighbouring island would boat over with a few giant tupperwares of home cooked food that they'd sell on the beach. one of our favourite recurring dishes was called kecap beef (pronounced "ketchup"), named after the kecap manis, or sweet soy, that was in the dish. this recipe is our best attempt at re-creating their kecap beef. it's sweet, savoury, a bit spicy and incredibly rich. to balance the richness and to complement the soft texture, we recommend serving it with a side of either pickled vegetables or a vinegar-based slaw as well as topped with something crispy - fried shallots, fried potato, peanuts, whatever you want.
Serves 4-6 people, with leftovers
2 lbs beef chuck, cut into 1x1x2" pieces
2 tbsp fish sauce
2 stalks of fresh or frozen lemongrass, tough outer layers discarded and thinly sliced
1 bird's eye chili, roughly chopped
25 g fresh ginger, thinly sliced across the grain
3 garlic cloves, skinned
2 shallots, thinly sliced
1 medium red onion, sliced lengthwise into wedges
3 cups pho broth or beef stock; 1 star anise and a cinnamon stick if using beef stock
1/8 cup palm or brown sugar
1/4 cup gf soy sauce (we use this tamari)
1 long red chili such as cayenne or serrano, sliced on the bias into 1" segments
1 tbsp cornstarch, mixed with 3 tbsp of water to form a slurry
a handful of cilantro for garnish (optional)
Preheat the oven to 250°F.
Marinate the beef in fish sauce.
While the beef is marinating, make the paste. There are two options for this. The first is to use a small food processor and add all the ingredients from the lemongrass to the shallots, then pulse until it's relatively smooth. This will never pulverize the ingredients so it will be closed to a fine mince than a paste.
The better option is to use a large (5 cup) mortar and pestle. Start with the lemongrass and add a pinch of salt. Pound until smooth. Add each ingredient down to the shallots one at a time, pounding each one until smooth.
Brown the beef. Heat a large pot or dutch oven over medium heat. Add a few tablespoons of neutral oil (not olive) and swish the pot to evenly coat the bottom. Brown the beef in batches, making sure not to overcrowd the pot, and place the browned meat in a nonreactive bowl.
Add the onions and the paste to the hot pot and sautée for a few minutes until the paste smells amazing and the aroma of raw shallots and onions subsides.
If there are still brown bits from the beef stuck to the bottom, deglaze the pot with a splash of stock, scraping off those delicious goodies as the stock evaporates.
Return the beef to the pot, along with the stock, sugar, soy and chili.
Place the pot, covered, in the oven and let cook for two to three hours, until the beef is tender but not dry.
Remove the pot and put it on medium heat, uncovered, to reduce the liquid until it is slightly syrupy. Stir in the cornstarch slurry and keep heating for a couple more minutes until the sauce has thickened.