A dish called slow cooker beef in soy sauce probably doesn’t sound all that appealing. But call it daging masak kicap and your ears will perk up, eyes seeking the table for that dark dish, your nose searching for its fragrant aroma while your mouth waters at the thought of this delicious dish served over a bed of plain, hot white rice. It’s comfort food personified, and your stomach is growling thinking of your first bite.
Beef in soy sauce is not the most difficult of local food to make, which is probably why it commonly features in lunch or dinner time spreads in any bovine-eating household. Cooked in a variety of styles varying from house to house, it’s even an essential feature in any self-respecting nasi campur restaurant, and you won’t be hard-pressed to find served even in fancier Malay restaurants.
So why is this humble dish so popular, exactly?
Is it because we grew up eating it? And served exactly that way, alongside a plate of plain white rice? Be it wet or dry, beef in soy sauce is an important component of our own personal culinary history and evokes memories of childhood meals. We find comfort in this dish, in the way it smells and tastes. It reminds us of more innocent times, perhaps, with evenings spent playing with your neighbours after school.
Or perhaps it’s simply because we love kicap? Let’s face it, it’s a staple in every single Malaysian household, and is possibly the ingredient we reach for to fix anything that doesn’t taste quite right. Kicap is our umami flavouring, be it the salty or salty sweet variety. It flows through our veins. And anything cooked in kicap is bound to be a favourite.
Then why fix something not broken?
We love easy recipes that come together quickly. And while beef in soy sauce is easy when it comes to the cooking process, it does have a number of simple ingredients to give it that necessary oomph. It’s not just about the kicap, even if it does play an essential role in preparing this recipe. It’s also about the spices, the aromatics, and, well, the beef, coming together to form this well-loved favourite. Cook it too quickly and all those subtle flavours won’t come out just right, cook it too long and your beef might end up overdone, as tough as leather to chew on. That need to balance time and flavour sparked an idea in our heads – why not give it the slow cooker treatment?
Worth the wait
As long as you’ve got time on your hands, slow cooker beef in soy sauce is definitely worth the wait, especially if you like the kind with kuah. Slow cookers work some of their best magic when making a soupy, stewy, gravy-type dish, sealing in liquids and intensifying flavours. There’s no need to marinade your beef in kicap here. Just get your ingredients sautéed and going and let that sauce seep into the beef for a deeper, stronger flavour. The longer cooking hours also yields tender bites of beef, making it perfect for tougher aka cheaper cuts of beef. There’s no need to reach for that fresh Australian-raised, grain-fed beef in the supermarket for this recipe. Cheap, local and frozen will suffice.
There’s also one other reason why beef in soy sauce is perfect for the slow cooker – the time it takes to cook. Three and a half hours might sound like a long time to cook something so simple, but those are three and a half hours you can spend doing anything you want and not watching over a pot making sure things don’t burn. And that, we reckon, is a pretty good trade-off.
- 500g beef, cut into 2cm-3cm cubes
- 18g (4 cloves) garlic, cut small
- 60g (1 medium) red onion, peeled and sliced thin
- 15g (1) lemongrass, white part only, bashed
- 18g (1”) ginger, peeled and sliced thin
- 4g (1) cinnamon stick
- 2g (2) star anise
- 60g sweet soy sauce
- 50g (2 tbsp) tamarind paste mixed with 240ml (1 cup) water
- 20g (2 tbsp) cooking oil
- 1/8 tsp (pinch) salt
- 175g (1 large) tomato, quartered
- 118g (1 large) red onion, peeled and quartered
- 54g (2 large) red chilies, stems removed and sliced in half from tip till almost all the way to the top
Making slow cooker beef in soy sauce
- Turn on your slow cooker and select the sauté/sear at high temperature function.
- Add cooking oil and let it heat up until tiny bubbles start forming on the base of your pot, or when the indicator reaches the ‘start pressure’ setting.
- Next, add garlic, sliced red onions, ginger, lemongrass, cinnamon stick and star anise and sauté until the onions start to soften.
- After that, add the cubed beef and let it sear for a few minutes until all sides are sealed. This will give the beef, and your dish, extra flavour.
- Give your tamarind paste and water mixture a good mix using your fingers, making sure the squeeze the pulp for maximum flavour. Sieve the contents into the pot, squeezing out all the remaining juices from the tamarind pulp.
- Next, add soy sauce and give everything a good stir. Depending on the brand of soy sauce you used, you may need to add a bit of salt. Taste the mixture and, if needed, add salt in ¼ teaspoon increments at a time, stirring it into the dish and tasting before adding more.
- Once you’re satisfied with the flavour, set your slow cook to high temperature and let it cook for three hours.
- Open up the slow cooker lid and add final ingredients. Slow cook on high temperature for another 30 minutes. The tomatoes, onion and chili adds colour and crunch to an otherwise very dark dish. You may choose to add this at step 7 above, before slow cooking for three hours (there is no need to add the extra 30 minutes in that case), however, the final ingredients will soften and disintegrate quite a bit. If this is how you prefer your beef in soy sauce, then go right ahead.
- Serve while still warm with hot white rice.
- We used the Philips-all-in-one cooker which has a nifty sauté/sear function. If your slow cooker doesn’t have this option, prepare the steps in the “Making slow cooker beef in soy sauce” in a wok, pot or pan. Once these steps are completed on your stove top, transfer all the ingredients into your slow cooker before proceeding with cooking the dish in your slow cooker.
- If you have a lot of time on your hands or would like to prepare this dish overnight, set your slow cooker to low temperature and let it cook for 6 hours, plus an additional 1 hour for the final ingredients.
- Love potatoes? Potatoes and beef in soy sauce are excellent together. Peel and cut your your potatoes into large cubes and add them into the pot after step 6 in “Making slow cooker beef in soy sauce”. However, depending on your liquid content and how much potatoes you use, you may need to add extra water as the potatoes will absorb quite a lot of liquid, especially if you want your slow cooker beef in soy sauce to be quite saucy. The general rule is to make sure you have just enough liquid to cover the potatoes.
Beef in soy sauce is bound to be an instant hit at your dinner table, because what’s not to love about beef and soy sauce after all! And because it’s super simple to make in a slow cooker, we won’t be surprised if this becomes a regular staple for meals any day of the week. Now, don’t forget to show us your slow cooker beef in soy sauce before you devour it all by snapping a picture and tagging it with the #butterkicap hashtag. Enjoy!