Thursday, January 21, 2010

Semur Daging--Javanese Beef Stew (of a sort)

My mother makes a very good beef bourguignon, as well as a killer beef stroganoff. They were dishes I always looked forward to while I was growing up (and anytime she makes them now when I am fortunate enough to be there for dinner). But my wife doesn't care for beef much, so I don't cook it too often. When I do, I usually cook rendang, empal, rawon, or some other Indonesian dish. Semur is one of those Indonesian beef dishes that my wife enjoys.

Although commonly perceived as being spicy, a lot of Indonesian food is not particularly hot. Very often heat is introduced in the form of sambal, a chile based sauce. A typical serving of nasi rames might have a meat dish, a vegetable dish, tempe or tofu, a boiled egg, rice and a selection of sambals. Semur is one of those Indonesian dishes that incorporates several indigenous spices but forgoes the heat of chilies. It is a relatively easy stew-like dish that can be served as a main course to a simple family meal, or be a part of a multi-dish ristaffel.

Likely a Dutch-influenced dish ("smoor" meaning to smother in Dutch), semur is a slow braised stew redolent with spices that made Indonesia such a colonial prize. There are countless variations to semur, and the spices used reflect the cook's cultural background. In as much as my wife is ethnic Chinese from Java, the recipe I use contains star anise as well as cloves and cinnamon, which may not be found in other recipes. My wife also insists semur needs to have cellophane noodles, though I haven't seen them listed in other recipes. In short, semur invites you to tailor the dish to your own personal tastes and preferences.

Semur Daging

2 1/2 to 3 pounds boneless beef chuck, cut into 1-inch cubes
3/4 cup minced shallots
2 TBS oil
2 TBS minced ginger
1 1/2 tsp minced laos
1/2 nutmeg, grated
2--4 star anise
1 3 to 4-inch piece of cinnamon
5 cloves, ground
2 tsp salt
2 salam leaves
4 cups water
4 TBS kecap manis
2 tsp vinegar
3 roma tomatoes, cut in 1/2-inch dice
2 to 3 yukon gold potatoes, sliced crosswise 1/2-inch thick
1 bundle cellophane noodles, softened in hot water
3--4 hard boiled eggs, peeled

Fry the shallots in the oil about a minute. Stir in the ginger, laos, nutmeg, star anise, cinnamon, cloves, and salt. Add the beef, stir and cook for another five minutes or so. Pour in the water, add the kecap manis and salam leaves, and bring to a boil. Cover and simmer on low for an hour to an hour and a half, until the beef is tender.

Some people add the potatoes raw and let them cook in the stew. I like to brown them by lightly frying them first and adding them the last fifteen minutes of cooking, along with the tomatoes and eggs. Add the cellophane noodles near the end of the cooking time.

Just before serving, stir in the vinegar. Add salt and pepper to taste.


  1. mmm that sounds so flavorful and looks fantastic

  2. Thanks. It is a good dish for these cold, rainy days.

  3. Thank You, thank You.... Mother was born in Cheribon Java, and I absolutely love Indo cuisine....thank You for this recipe... I can't wait...

    1. Johannes,

      It may not be as good as your mother's, but I hope you'll like it.

  4. Thank you soo soo Much, My Oma was Indonesian My Ompa Dutch... I still have many dishes memorized this is a dish I have been looking for!


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