Recipe: Malaysian Beef Curry

updated Jan 21, 2020
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Malaysian, Thai, and other South Asian curries each have their own distinctions, but they also have many things in common, with the edges blending in and out between spices and techniques.

This rich, fragrant beef and potato curry is flavored with a Malaysian spice mix, onions slowly cooked with techniques learned from South Indian cuisine, then simmered with Thai coconut milk in the perfect American instrument for a long, slow braise: the CrockPot.

The best thing about this kind of braised curry is that you can use the very toughest, cheapest cuts of meat. Tough, stringy – doesn’t matter. After a day in the slow cooker every bite will be a melting, spicy nugget. This recipe will take some time, but putting together the spice mix and slow cooking the onions will be worth it, and you will have a lot of leftovers to freeze, since this does freeze very well.

Also, since the lengthy list of ingredients does look a little overwhelming, it’s broken down into five main sections: the dry spices for the curry powder, which then becomes one of the ingredients for the wet curry paste; the meat; the building blocks of the sauce; and the final finishing touches that balance flavor. It helps me to think of curries in these steps, instead of as one very long list of obscure ingredients.

If you don’t have a slow cooker, finish this in a large Dutch oven or heavy pot with a lid and put it in a 250ºF oven for about four hours, until the meat is very, very tender.

Malaysian Beef Curry

Dry spices for the curry powder
4 tbsp coriander
2 tbsp white cumin
10 whole cloves
1 cinnamon stick
4 whole cardamom
6 black pepper
1 tbsp chili powder (or to taste)
1 tsp turmeric powder

Wet or fresh ingredients for the curry paste
4 stalks lemongrass
2 inches fresh galangal (optional)
2 inches length ginger
8 cloves garlic
15 dried chillies
6 tbsp oil
6 tbsp curry powder (see above)

4 lbs chuck steak, cubed

Sauce building
2 onions
6 shallots
4 cups coconut milk
1 pound baby red potatoes, scrubbed and cut in half

Flavor finishing
3 tbsp soy sauce
3 lime leaves
Sugar to taste

Toast the spices for the curry powder in a heavy skillet over medium heat for a minute or two – take off the heat when you can smell them. Add the turmeric and then grind them all in a spice grinder or mortar and pestle. (Note: If you do not want to round up all the whole spices for this recipe, you can use a blend of their ground counterparts. Don’t toast the ground spices.)

Remove the outer tough leaves from the lemongrass and slice finely. Peel the galangal and slice it as finely as you can. Peel and slice the ginger and garlic as well. In a food processor or mortar and pestle, blend lemongrass, galangal, ginger, garlic, chilies and some oil. This may seem like a lot of chilies, but this dish soaks up the heat and unless you are extremely sensitive to hot foods, this won’t be too much. I ended up tossing in a whole handful more near the end because it wasn’t hot enough.

Add spice mix and beef and toss.

Cook the onions slowly in a little oil until golden – about 20 minutes. Really take your time with these and do not let them brown. Let them slowly sweat until translucent.

Add the meat over low heat, cover and cook for 15 minutes. You don’t want to sear the meat or brown it in this recipe. The toasted spices will give it that roasted taste.

Put in crockpot with halved potatoes, coconut milk, lime leaves and soy sauce and cook on high for 4 hours or on low for 8, or overnight. Leave lid off at the end to reduce the sauce a little if you wish. Taste and adjust flavors with soy sauce and sugar. Serve with rice or rice noodles.