In my last post I wrote about a terrific Malaysian cooking class (taught by Cookery Magic) that I took on the island of Pulau Ubin. Determined not to forget how to make all of the cool dishes that I learned to cook that day, I hosted a dinner party where I recreated the three recipes: Butter Prawns, Herbed Rice, and Sambal Belacan Tumis.
Sambal Belacan Tumis is a cooked, thick chili-based sauce flavored with shrimp paste (the belacan). Tumis means stir-fry. It’s super versatile, as it can be used not only as a condiment, but as a base for a stir-fry. Throw in some shrimp, chicken, squid, or a vegetable and you’ve got a great dish that’s full of flavor. Spread it over anything grilled as well (it’s commonly slathered on barbequed stingray). The flavors are intense but balanced (tamarind adds sour and shallots and palm sugar add sweet to balance the heat). That said, it’s still really, really hot, so use it sparingly unless you’re addicted to mouth stinging heat!
I think most people buy the sambal in jars these days (store shelves are flooded with a gazillion different kinds), but really nothing beats homemade. The best thing about making it yourself is that you can adjust it to suit your tastes. Want more heat? Add more chilis. Sweeter? Throw in a few more shallots or some palm sugar. I love the pungent flavor of the shrimp paste here, but feel free to leave it out if you’re squeamish.
I finely chop the ingredients first to make pounding the paste easier.
It looked like this after a minute or so of pounding. But if you want a smoother paste–go for it!
Next up–fry it up. The instructor, Ruqxana, says “you’ll know when it’s done when you start to cough and choke“. Um…that may happen almost immediately. Open the windows, throw the hood fans on high and keep cooking it until it softens and starts to caramelize. (You don’t want it too brown though). The flavor should be deep but still fresh.
My finished sambal. Yum!
Sambal Belachan Tumis
Wrapped well, this will keep in the fridge for weeks.
Makes about 1 cup
18 dried chili (soak in hot water to soften), finely chopped
5 Thai chilis, finely chopped
10 shallots (12 if they are small), finely chopped
8 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 inch piece of galangal, grated
1 tablespoon belachan, chopped
5 tablespoons vegetable oil
6 tablespoons tamarind pulp (soaked in 1/2 cup water and then strained to remove the seeds)
1 tablespoon grated palm sugar
salt to taste
1. Using a mortar and pestle, pound and mash the dried chilis, Thai chilis, shallots, garlic, galangal, and belachan to a paste.
2. In a wok or non-stick skillet, heat the oil over moderate heat until shimmering. Add the paste and cook, stirring frequently, until it’s beginning to caramelize and is very fragrant, roughly 8 minutes or so. (Lower the heat if it starts to caramelize too quickly).
3. Stir in the strained tamarind pulp and the palm sugar and cook for another 2 minutes or so. Add salt to taste.