Sambal belacan is a strongly flavoured spicy condiment that is eaten with rice throughout South East Asia. You’ll almost always find it at the dinner table in many a Malay home in Singapore and Malaysia.
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What is Sambal Belacan?
It is a very thick and spicy condiment or hot sauce, made with chillies, shrimp paste and lime juice; with salt and sugar added.
The word sambal, as I’ve mentioned countless of times in the past, can refer to both a condiment or a side dish. The important thing is that sambals are meant to be hot, whetever their form. It is a Malay/Indonesian word and despite many food sites calling sambal belacan a Malaysian recipe, it is not solely so.
Sambal belacan is a Malay recipe and is both a Malaysian and Singaporean condiment.
On top of that, it is also Indonesian, where it’s called sambal terasi and Thai, where it’s known in the local lingo as nam prik kapi.
A little Language Lesson:
- sambal – there is no direct translation, it refers to condiments or side dishes, both spicy
- belacan – shrimp paste
- terasi – shrimp paste in Indonesian
- nam prik – a general Thai term for spicy condiments and dipping sauces, there are a gazillion different types of nam prik, just like sambal!
- kapi – shrimp paste in Thai
Sambal Belacan Recipe
This shrimp paste hot sauce is very easy to make at home. Needless to say though, you do need access to shrimp paste. Any East or South East Asian store will stock it. Here in the UK, Ocado, Waitrose, Sainsburys and Tesco stock them.
And it goes without saying that you can get it online. In fact, Waitrose’s line, Cook’s Ingredients, is available on Amazon.
Shrimp paste (belacan) is dried, fermented tiny shrimps that are sold as a solid paste or in blocks. It is strongly flavoured and is one of the pillars of South East Asian cooking. Click here to read more about belacan.
This is what we’ll be doing to make sambal belacan:
- dry roast the belacan
- pound the chillies and shrimp paste with a pestle or mortar or use a chopper
- season and finish off with lime juice
- store in a clean jar in the fridge for up to 5 days (it starts getting slimy after that)
Make it as hot or as mild as you want it to be. Growing up in Singapore (and Malaysia), and travelling all around the region, I’ve had all sorts.
The trick is the type of chillies you use. Use all birds eye chillies or mix some birds eye and mild, as I’ve done here.
Chopper or Pestle and Mortar?
I shall leave this one up to you. I have, at last count, about 7 different types of pestle and mortar. I don’t know, I can’t seem to resist buying different sorts. However, I tend to use them more for crushing dry spices, and photo shoots, of course!
Sometimes I’ll make my sambals with a pestle and mortar, but more often than not, I use the chopper. Because I’m lazy like that!
But it’s up to you, stick with traditional, or move with the times. 😉
And on that note, shall we get to it?
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Sambal Belacan (Malay Chilli Paste with Shrimp Paste)
- 10 red jalapeños
- 10 red bird’s eye chillies
- pinch of salt
- 1 tsp white sugar
- 1 Tbsp shrimp paste (belacan) dry roasted
- juice of 1 Persian-type lime or 3 calamansi
- the zest of 1 lime optional
Dry Toast the Belacan
- Place the belacan in a small frying pan on medium-low heat. Flatten it as much as you can to get as much of the surface area roasted as possible; it will stick to the back of your spatula. Just scrape it off and add back to the pan.
- Turn the heat down to low and roast for about 5 minutes. Flip it over halfway. If it's in bits, just scrape and flip as much as possible, but don't worry too much if you can't.When done, tip into the mortar after pounding the chillies. If using chopper, just tip with the chillies.
With a Pestle and Mortar
- If you are using a pestle and mortar, start by pounding the chillies, sugar and salt.
- When it has reached the semi coarse stage, add the shrimp, pound for a minute.
- Then finally, add the lime juice and zest and mix well.
- Store in a clean jar in the fridge for up to 5 days.
In a Chopper
- If using a chopper, like me, place everything in and chop to a smooth-ish mix, as in the image. Or keep it coarse if you prefer.