Today in New York is a rainy, sleepy day. The kind of day that makes me want to take a long walk in the park, wrapped in a sweater, with a scarf draped around my neck. It’s the kind of day that makes me realize that there is no place like New York, no city that actually makes the rain so welcome. Paris is lovely in the rain, but Paris is lovely in any weather. In London rain is pretty much expected and has a long tenure. But to me New York is loveliest when the skies are grey, the rain is falling, and there are puddles on the ground. The grey and rainy New York is lovelier than the sunny New York, at least to me.
I took a walk through Central Park today en route to work, making my journey slightly longer, but much more pleasant. I looked at the runners wishing I could join them – I love to run in the drain, and while I know that sounds counter-intuitive, trust me – once you do it, you’ll be hooked for life. It’s my favorite running weather. Now, I’m not talking a deluge here – just rain and slightly cooler temperatures. It makes for a refreshing, invigorating run. I smiled at all the dogs jumping from grass to pavement and back again, sniffing roots of trees, grasses, wet leaves, greeting one another, their wet tails wagging in excitement. The mothers were pushing their babies in strollers – some were running, some were walking briskly; all had an air of contentment about them. It was the perfect fall walk.
I love days like this. I love weekends like this even more. When you’re “forced” to hang out in your apartment, putting around the kitchen, wearing sweaters and leggings, drinking endless cups of tea with Ma Rainey playing in your living room. Even better if you have a record player, and can hear the scratches in Ma Rainey’s voice. Give me more of such weekends, autumn, and I will make more beef randang in your honor. Who doesn’t love a hearty, soupy, spicy curry, spooned over rice and served in a deep bowl?
I’ve been thinking about beef randang, ever since the lovely Colleen and I went out to Laut near Union Square. I haven’t had Malaysian food in I can’t tell you how long, but I realized after our dinner, just how much I had missed it. Malaysian food is made for days like this when you want something cozy and warm, and salads just won’t do, and soup seems to be not filling enough. It’s the equivalent of a wearing a blanket, minus the actually literally wearing one. But should ever decide that blanket-wearing is a must for dinner, you are now equipped with the perfect recipe for such an occasion, where sit at your table and eat it wearing whatever you like: a blanket, flannel pajamas, fleece pants and a hoodie, or yoga pants and a sweater. Sometimes, it’s just best to stay in and dress down, don’t you agree?
Adapted from All About Braising by Molly Stevens
6 dried chiles, like chile de arbol or birdseye chile
2 lemongrass stalks, woody tops, root ends, and outer layers removed, fragrant 4 inch cores coarsely chopped
4 shallots, coarsely chopped
3 garlic cloves, peeled
2 ½ inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and coarsely chopped
½ tsp ground turmeric
2 inch piece fresh galangal, peeled and coarsely chopped (optional)
Pinch of coarse salt
2 tbsp peanut oil
3 whole star anise
5 cardamom pods
2 3-inch cinnamon sticks
2 ½ lbs boneless beef chuck, or brisket, cut into 1 ½ to 2-inch cubes
1 ½ tsp sugar
2 cans (28 oz) unsweetened coconut milk, or as needed
4 fresh kaffir lime leaves (optional)
Make the Spice Paste:
Combine the chiles, lemongrass, shallots, garlic, ginger, turmeric, and galangal, if using, in a blender, small food processor, or a mortar and pestle. Season with salt. Grind the spices until they become a coarse paste, adding a couple of tablespoons of water as necessary, if the ingredients are too dry to grind. It is important to grind thoroughly – as too many fibers or chunks will make for an unpleasant taste.
Make the Curry:
Heat the oil in a large deep skillet, or a cocotte over medium-low heat. Add the spice paste and fry, stirring frequently with a wooden spoon, until the paste grow somewhat glossy as the oil starts to separate out o fit. This process should take any place between 3 and 8 minutes. It will take a bit longer if you have added water to the paste.
Next, add the start anise, cardamom, and cinnamon and stir well to combine. Add the beef and stir to that all the pieces are well coated with the paste. Season with sugar and add a nice pinch of salt.
Pour the coconut milk over the beef (should cover the beef) and stir well to blend all the ingredients together. Bring the raise to a gentle simmer, and lower the heat so that the beef is braised, uncovered, for about 2 ½ hours. Stir the stew every 20 minutes or so. Be sure to check on your simmer. Molly Stevens suggests that you should see occasional bubbles, but “certainly not a torrent”. I think that’s enormously descriptive of just how active a braise you are looking for. Sometimes, however, our stoves have a mind of their own, and the braising bubbles are much to active for our tolerance levels. If such a thing occurs, simply use half the cooking time to cook the beef covered, so that not too much liquid evaporates.
Serve over basmati rice, but be sure to skim some fat off before serving. A little is good for flavor, but if you are using chuck, you’ll definitely have some fat to dispose of.