Betawi spiced beef

Preparation info

  • Difficulty


  • Serves


Appears in

Fire Islands: Recipes from Indonesia

Fire Islands

By Eleanor Ford

Published 2019

  • About

A richly spiced dish from the Betawi people of Java. It has a little sweetness as well as tang with complex layers of flavour. Don’t be put off by the lengthy ingredient list - the method is simple with long, slow cooking doing all the work, with exquisite results.


  • 600 g (1 lb 5 oz) beef shin or stewing steak
  • 1 tablespoon oil
  • 6 cm ( inches) galangal, skin scrubbed
  • 3 cm ( inches) ginger, peeled
  • 3 lemongrass sticks
  • 5 salam leaves (optional)
  • 6 lime leaves
  • ½ cinnamon/cassia stick
  • 4 cardamom, lightly cracked
  • 3 cloves
  • 1 star anise
  • 1 tablespoon dark palm sugar (gula jawa)
  • 2 tablespoons kecap manis

Bumbu spice paste

  • ¼ nutmeg, grated
  • teaspoons ground coriander
  • ½ teaspoon ground cumin
  • ½ teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 5 large garlic cloves, roughly chopped
  • 1 red onion, roughly chopped
  • 3 candlenuts or 6 blanched almonds, toasted


Trim the beef of any outer sinew, but leave the inner fat and connective tissue, which will keep the braise tender. Cut the beef into a 3-4 cm (1¼—1½ inch) dice.

Make the bumbu spice paste. Use a food processor or high-speed blender to grind all the ingredients to a paste, adding a little water to help the blades bring everything together.

Heat the oil in a casserole pan and add the bumbu. Fry, stirring often, until the rawness is replaced by a sweet fragrance. Meanwhile halve the galangal and ginger into thick slices and gently bruise them with the handle of the knife. Also bruise the lemongrass and, if they are long enough, tie into knots. When the bumbu is ready, throw these all into the pan with the leaves and whole spices and fry for a minute or two longer. Stir in a small slosh of water to loosen the paste and help the flavours meld.

Add the beef and stir well, coating the beef in the spice paste. Cook for a few minutes to start to brown and caramelise. Add 200 ml (generous ¾ cup) water and the palm sugar and try to tuck all the ingredients below the liquid level. Bring to a simmer and cover with a lid. Cook at the faintest bubble until the meat is very tender, this should take around 2 hours but depends on the cut of meat. Remove the larger aromatics. Stir in the kecap manis, which will make the sauce dark and glossy, and taste for seasoning.