International Recipes and Cooking Around the World

Sambal Belacan

A mortar with freshly made sambal belacan

(Malaysian spicy red chile and shrimp paste sauce)

Image Creative Commons by irwandy

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The go-to sauce in Malaysia, sambal belacan (pronounced "beh-LAH-chan") is a spicy red chili sauce, its flavored deepened and made more complex with dried shrimp paste (belacan).

Traditionally pounded in a mortar, the modern Malaysian uses a blender to make quick work of it.

Makes about 1 cup

Ingredients

  • Oil -- 2 or 3 tablespoons
  • Belacan (shrimp paste) -- 1 tablespoon
  • Mild red peppers, chopped -- about 1/2 cup
  • Thai bird's eye or other hot chilies, chopped -- 3 or 4
  • Calamansi or lime juice -- 1/4 cup
  • Sugar -- 2 teaspoons
  • Salt -- to taste

Method

  1. Heat a small skillet over medium flame. Add the shrimp paste and toast it in the dry pan, stirring frequently, until it is dried and crumbly and giving off its aroma. Remove from heat and put the toasted shrimp paste into a mortar or blender.
  2. Add the remaining ingredients and process with a pestle, or pulse in the blender, until the ingredients are almost pureed but still have a little texture.
  3. Adjust seasoning to taste and serve as a condiment for Malaysian meals.

Sambal Belacan Variations

  • Peppers: Malaysians like their sambal belacan blazing hot, but you can use a combination of mild and spicy peppers to achieve the perfect level of heat for you. The important thing is to use red peppers to get that bold brick color.
  • Some people add chopped tomato and minced onion or shallot to their sambal belacan.

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