Monday, 22 August 2011

Sambal Tumis- Very Important Belachan Chilli Paste



This is not any ordinary chilli paste. Yes, you use this as a dip at the side, but you also use this as the base for creating so many Singaporean/ Malaysian classic stirfried noodles/barbeques/curries/sauces. That said, it's an extraordinary dip, and nasi lemak is not nasi lemak, fried hokkien prawn mee is not fried hokkien prawn mee, without this sambal chilli on the side.

What's unique about this chilli paste is belachan- a potent-smelling fermented ground shrimp. I still remember cooking with it last year when I was still staying in halls and my Turkish flatmate kind of flew out of the kitchen. But don't judge, because I guarantee you'll love its salty savoury flavour. Plus like all fermented foods, belachan is great for health. I would, however, suggest doing this in an outdoor kitchen, or with all your windows open, and preferably with friendly, out-of-town, or Southeast Asian neighbours.


SAMBAL TUMIS BELACHAN
makes 2 cups (always make extra because it takes so much effort!)

Ingredients
1" length of a block of belachan
400g (~2 1/2 cups) shallots
30g (~30) dried chillies
50g (4-5 large ones) fresh chillies
5 cloves garlic
2 stalks of lemongrass, white part only
8 candlenuts (if not available, can replace with macadamia nuts, or just skip it)
3 tbsp tamarind pulp, soaked in equal amount warm water
1" slice (~4 tbsp) of gula melaka (unrefined coconut/palm sugar)
1/2 cup of groundnut/ palm/ coconut oil (I know it sounds like a lot but you need to really fry the paste, and you won't be eating all that oil actually)


Method
1. Toast the blechan in a dry pan, chopping at it with your spatula to break it up, till aromatic and powdery. You can also do this in the oven for less fuss/complaints from next door.



2. Blend/ pound the toasted belachan, shallots, chillies, garlic, lemongrass and candlenuts till you get a smooth paste.


I was so sure I'd never subject myself to such physical torture again after the Thai curry paste. But my mum insisted saying it's much easier to wash out a mortar then a blender... Right.

3. Over a medium-low heat, fry the paste, keep stirring once in a while so it doesn't burn. 10 minutes in, add the assam water.
This is to give you an idea of how small the flame should be.


5. Add the gula melaka, allowing it to melt and cook into the hot sambal chilli, and stir to combine.


6. You can stop stirring when you see the oil separating from the mixture, at least 30 minutes (yes, at least. I usually do it for 1 hour.).

The sambal will turn a deeper red and you'll see the oil oozing from it

6. Leave to cool before storing. The sambal will keep about 1 month in the fridge, with the layer of oil on top to keep it from spoiling, or freeze for months in smaller containers.


This chilli is sweet, spicy, salty, savoury, and just a tiny bit tangy, with a hint of smokiness plus an oomph of flavour and aroma from the toasted belachan. The smell of it while it slowly roasted was enough to make all that pounding and sweating by the wok worth it.

There are many variations for sambal tumis, some calling for a long list of ingredients but mine is simpler, hence more versatile, and not in any way less awesome, well at least imo and in my mum's opinion (which is rare). This is adapted from 2 sources, Mum Loves Cooking, who's got her sambal tumis to taste like her grannies (and grannies know best), and an old Malay family helper who taught my mum to use gula melaka (unrefined coconut palm sugar that adds an amazing caramel toffee-like sweetness) instead of normal white sugar.

Like most Asian cooking, everything's usually a guesstimate. You can adapt this to become sweeter by adding more gula melaka or shallots, spicier by adding spicier/more chillies or use birds' eye chillies, more pungent by adding more garlic, but for me, this recipe (sweat included) is pretty much my definite sambal tumis.


f it's not clear enough, I also made a video (cringe):




~

See this sambal in:
Bak Chor Mee (Noodles dry-tossed in crack)
Sambal Telur (Boiled, Fried, then Chilli-Smothered Eggs)
Sambal Grilled Aubergine Stack
Sambal Grilled Stingray on Banana Leaf
Nasi Goreng "Special" (Malay fried rice)
Nasi Lemak (Coconut Rice with Sambal Crispy Anchovies and Peanuts)







57 comments:

  1. your description of the key ingredient makes this sound dreadful but it looks wonderful and if you say it works then I trust you!... fab stuff!

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  2. This looks delicious! Would make a great relish or sauce for pasta. Lovely!

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  3. I bet this must be very flavourful and delicious!

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  4. We are a household of sambal lovers here. This one looks fantastic!

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  5. This looks great! I once got a jar of sambal belacan sent to me by a friend in Malaysia - and I love it! So wonderful!

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  6. This is a can't do without when I lost my appetite.

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  7. dom: it works! it's not just me, it's almost every Singapore/Malaysian household ;)

    it's often stirfried with egg noodles or rice noodles, but pasta sounds like an easy substitute when overseas!

    angie: thanks!

    lorraine: yes, can't do without this sambal chilli!

    shuqi: (: rare few times mummy approves too.

    jenn: i'm so glad people outside of malaysia has tried this before, more people need to know about this amazing chilli!

    edith: wah usually I don't feel like eating anything spicy if I lose my appetite, haha you must be a huge sambal fan.

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  8. Definitely one important recipe! The heart of most great spicy recipe! Thanks for sharing dear!

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  9. This belacan chilli paste looks so delicious! I like to eat this sambal with white rice!

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  10. This looks amazing! I'd love to try it but a bit nervous about 'stinky' ingredients :P
    Thanks for visiting my blog :)

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    Replies
    1. Don't worry, the "stinkiness" is actually quite fragrant once you start cooking with it!!

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  11. Wow, your sambal look super good!! Give me some, I want to eat with nasi lemak!

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  12. Oh, it looks fabulous! It must be so fragrant. A wonderful sauce.

    Cheers,

    Rosa

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  13. This looks so delicious. I'm definitely going to try this!

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  14. That is one explosive bowl of sambal!! Interesting to see you use gula melaka in the recipe. Ooo I can't wait to make this. BTW, your pictorial is nicely done. The shots on the bowl of sambal is STUNNING! Thanks.

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    1. The gula melaka adds a nice toffee sweetness. And it is pretty explosive. haha.

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  15. LOVE the look of your sambal am sure it tasted amaaaazeballs =D. SO gonna make this when i go back to msia hehe. thanks shu han, youre such a star! =)

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  16. Bookmarked to give it a whirl, though noted will also need to take some apologetic baked gooods to the neighbours afterwards! Looks very similar to the Ghanian condiment Shitoh. Love the stuff.

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    1. Haha yes, do bribe them before you start. Will check out shitoh, sounds like my kind of thing!

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  17. Love the photos :)
    Drooling for nasi lemak sambal sotong..

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    1. Thanks cik! I LOVE sambal sotong. sambal anythign really.

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  18. Hi Shuhan, I have decided to prepare your Sambal Tumis (I cannot stop thinking about it) and bought... Vietnamese shrimp paste... Now that I look at the photos on internet, I see it's completely different at least visually. Have you ever tried it? Otherwise I will keep on looking for the real belachan.
    Owners of the Asian shop I go to (Vietnamese I think) don't really speak enough French/English or any language I know to help me (most of the time), so I have to look at every single product they have.

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    1. Hi sissi! Very happy to hear you're finally trying this! I've never tried Vietnamese shrimp paste before, so I can't say for sure, but I do feel there are differences in taste between Indonesian terasi and the Malaysian/Singaporean belachan shrimp paste. It's like how white miso and thai/chi fermented soybean paste all taste kind of dissimilar, but not entirely different too, so it may still work well as a substitute. Why not just try it first, and see how you like it anyway?

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    2. Thank you for the answer! I will try this shrimp paste. I think it's not as solid in consistency as belachan... Anyway, I will keep you informed on my experiments :-)

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  19. Hi Shu Han
    A great blog that you have :)
    For this recipe, what should we do with the 2 stalks of lemongrass?
    Thanks a lot.

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    1. Hi Henny!
      Thanks so much for your kind words, and your question. Sheesh I never even realised I missed out the lemongrass in the recipe. You bash and roughly chop up the white part of the lemongrass, then pound them together with the chillies etc. into the paste.

      Good luck! (:

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  20. Hi Shu Han,

    Have you considered selling pots of these to your followers? I would be interested in buying a few pots

    SL

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    1. Hey SL! I actually do make extra sambal whenever I host a supperclub and sell jars of sambal, complete with hand-drawn labels (: I don;t normally announce it on the blog as it's only a handful of jars and they go fast, but if you like, drop me an email at shuhan90(at)gmail.com, I'll let you know next time there's any. Are you based in London though?

      x

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  21. I am having a proper rifle through your blog. I wonder if the Vietnamese grocer down the road sells Belachan? And candle nuts? *Muses* I need a good stinky tangy salty sauce to go with my lovely rendang on Wednesday! Xx

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  22. I don't know you but just seeing how young you are and going to all that trouble, it's amazing. I'm so proud of you!

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    1. Wow thanks cik! That really means a lot to me! I know it's a lot of trouble, but I think it's worth it :)

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  23. Very nice, simple and balanced. Thank you

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  24. Tried it last night - turned out too salty. Maybe I got the wrong shrimp paste

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    1. Oh no! really sorry to hear that! This chilli shoudl be venturing ont he side of sweet in fact, rather than salty! Which shrimp paste did you get? Watch the video, you might get a better idea of what it's like. Let me know how it goes again please :(

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  25. Thank you so much for this recipe! I've been searching for this for a long time. Will try it soon. I don't have gula melaka in my pantry at the moment - will brown sugar suffice?

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    1. Hey! Thank YOU for giving my recipe a go! Brown sugar is fine but I find gula melaka gives it a special touch! But yeah it will work great still! Let me know how this goes x

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    2. Just made this today and I've got to say, this is the best sambal tumis recipe I've tried so far! Thanks Shu! I've tried three different recipes before this and they all yielded disappointing results. This time around, the taste and color was spot-on. My only problem was that the chili turned out too dry. I'm wondering if it is because I fried it at too high a heat? Also, I couldn't get the paste to be as fine as yours.

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  26. How do you get your sambal so wet? Ours came out pasty too but not dry. Is it cos of the oil added that keeps it wet? Cos I did cut down thinking the oil was too much initially. But nevertheless it tasted SO AWESOME!

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    1. LOTS of oil! Don't cut down! Glad it tasted awesome anyway- good luck xx

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  27. Oh I have the same problem too. I added about a cup of water but it dried up during the sauté process

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    1. LOTS of oil! And saute over low heat x

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  28. Hello, Singaporean from Perth here. Thanks for the recipe. I have been craving for a nice sambal, which is not easy to find in Perth. I am definitely going to try your recipe very soon. Cheers!

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  29. Hi Shu Han,

    just a little tip which I hope might be useful. But I personally think it would be better if gula jawa is used instead of gula melaka. Gula Jawa is richer and darker, and would most definitely allow the samba tumis taste better.

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    1. That sounds great! I have no idea where to get hold of gula jawa here though. Definitely will pick up some if I'm in the region x

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  30. Great Post
    I am Looking for Sambal Recipe form a long time' now got it ' I will Surely make it home
    Thank You so much dear :)

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  31. Thanks for the recipe! It's so useful I actually made 2 batches in 1 week in time for an offbeat xmas present.

    The xmas special is based on this recipe with a few significant tweaks
    - using dried habaneros with fresh ones made for a most unusual sambal as the sambal is dark brown rather than red
    - maybe for some it's hard to find tamarind, but being abit lazy to process the tamarind, i've used balsamic vinegar instead
    - overall the sambal had a persistent heat, a brisk start and very woody n earthy notes during the frying process

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    1. Hurrah! Cheers for letting me know.This made me really happy!

      Also, really love your twists. Balsamic vinegar is a touch of genius. Original sambal leads with sweet, umami, with slight tang, and then heat kicks in after, but STAYS. Love how yours turned out too- will have to give a go one day.

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  33. I really love your recipe, and your bottled product looks super-authentic! I have one problem with the recipe though. I use scales in the kitchen, and the recipe says that 30 big dried chillies should be 75g, but actually it is only 25g. Was that a typo? My portion of chillies looks the same as yours in the video, and I'm thinking that 75g/90 dried chillies might be too much!

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    1. Ah 25g. 90 dried chillies will burn your mouth off! Thanks for the spot! And thanks for the kind words- let me know how it goes :)

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  34. Thanks for the recipe. We love love love this!! So yummy n the pounding is paid off, n makes me glad I have a food processor too

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  35. Thanks for sharing, I can't wait to try! What do you do with the dried chili before pounding - do you boil it in water to soften first? (sorry can't get the plug-in to watch your video on my mac...)

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    1. Sorry Ariel I've only just seen this comment! I snip it first and shake out the seeds, then soak in warm water till softened, and discard the soaking water. Hope this helps! xx

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  36. Hi !
    May I know if you sell the ready made mixture? I am a singaporean, just moved to London early this year. As I live in a small flat, it's not advised to cook anything that might make the whole place smell. Let me know if you do sell the mixture. Many many thanks!!

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    1. Unfortunately I don't sell it any longer :/ You'll have to try convincing your housemates hehe, and keep all the windows open! Good luck!

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