Auntie Ruby's Sambal Belachan Recipe

Sunday, October 06, 2013

A plate of white rice with good sambal belachan and fresh cucumber has kept many generations of Kampung folk happy. Mostly eaten with hands, it is their version of a "Happy Meal."

In fact if there are days when your dishes are not "happening"(a local way of saying that it is not turning out to expectations), a good sambal belachan could make up for it.

Mediocre fried veg + bland meat dish = Miserable meal
Mediocre fried veg + bland meat dish + Sambal Belachan = Happy Meal (toy is superfluous)

That's right. SB is a super flavor enhancer. When you couple umami-ladened belachan and fiery chillies, you have a combination which satisfies a few cravings at one go.

Take a few moments to understand SB a bit more and it can help you to make good lots consistently.

You need belachan (dried shrimp paste) of course. You need to toast it to mellow the fishy flavours and add a smoky dimension to what is already a complex ingredient. I love those from Penang. Use the wet type which comes in blocks. The powder forms won't do as the taste is not as intense. Heat up a pan and gently roast the belachan pieces.

Fresh red chillies these days are not as spicy as it used to be, and it depends on the season or where you get yours from. You can add some chilli padi (bird's eye chillies). My preference is to avoid over-spicing the SB so that diners can eat more of it. That said, if your family are seasoned chilli eaters, ignore my advice.

Shallots will add some sweetness and body. My mum's version will include some turmeric and lengkuas (blue ginger). All three will up the flavour and fragrance of your SB.
My fav brand of belachan

If you have a lesong, pounding instead of blending will result in flaky bits of chillies and shallots which do make a difference to the eating. Check out the lead photo. It is difficult to get this kind of texturing without pounding the traditional way. You will be crying too. So, wear your specs, or maybe a pair of swimming goggles!

If you are making a large quantity, the results are not tragic if you have to use the electric blender. Your grandma may "ngam ngam chum chum" (complain) but better a whirring sound than a sobbing one.

Remember to add some sugar. Squeeze some lime juice and add some chopped kaffir lime leaves (daun limau perut) just before serving.

Here is my Mum's recipe.

Auntie Ruby Sambal Belachan Recipe

Pound the following:

7 fresh red chillies

10 pieces of shallots

1t lengkuas (blue ginger or galangal, skinned)
1t tumeric (skinned)
1T belachan (shrimp paste) - toasted
1T sugar

Add some finely shredded Kaffir Lime leaves (limau perut). Squeeze some lime juice just before serving.

The ingredients (right) to fit one mortar session of SB (left)
Now, you can buy some commercial belachan and there are some good ones out there. If you decide to make some yourself, I recommend that you "go all the way" i.e. use the lesong, pound and include some aromatics. If your home version is only marginally better than commercial ones, you might as well just buy it.

The recipe above is just nice to fit my mortar and it will give you about a 200ml bottle of SB.

A bottle of SB for the fridge.
This recipe is just a guide. Add or reduce ingredients according to your taste preference. Increase the amount of chilli padi if you want a SB that is really "shiok", i.e. make you sweat. You can also zest some lime skin to add flavour and contrasting green colour (see a plate of it below), especially if you do not have the green kaffir lime leaves at hand.

This SB can go with most dishes and is excellent when paired with dishes like Tau Yew Bak and Chap Chye (Lo Han Chye). 

So, make some and serve it at the dining table. If your other dishes are badly done, just watch. The SB will steal the limelight and your family will forgive the other dishes.  

Now, if you think you are a "hopelessly bad cook", come to think of it, I have yet to meet one. I have met some though who may be less experienced in cooking a particular dish or cuisine. Ask me to make fresh pasta, and I will be a lost newbie, at least for now. It is all about education and experience. There is nothing in cooking that you cannot learn. There are no bad cooks. Just less experienced ones. 

One never arrives when it comes to cooking or almost anything else for the matter. We are all learners, always.

And since you will never arrive, it is always safer to stock up some Auntie Ruby Sambal Belachan. 

"Dear, can I have some Sambal Belachan please...?"
"Why? Something wrong with my dinner...?"

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  1. Thank you sir, for the SB recipe can this be use as a basic chilli paste for cooking ?

  2. Raman- SB is a flavored chilli paste. If it is suited to add to the dish, by all means. For most of my other dishes, I prefer to use plain chilli paste,

  3. I'm actually looking around for a good SB recipe and the timing of this post is just perfect. I got another one from Arni (Yusof & Arni's Cafe @ Far East Plaza) last week when their cafe reopened. Time for some experiment in the kitchen!

  4. Just what I was looking for! Thanks :)