Freshly made Sambal Belacan

Sambal Belacan Recipe

Many westerners are now familiar with the simple Chili Paste known as Sambal Oelek as it is available in supermarkets, and in many restaurants these days. This Sambal Belacan recipe is considerably more complex as it adds the Malaysian Dried Shrimp Paste known as Belecan, along with a host of other aromatic spices. It is perfect for use as a spice base in Malaysian style Curries, but is versatile enough to be used in a wide range of different dishes.

Ingredient Notes

The Ingredients for a Sambal Belacan Recipe
The Ingredients for a Sambal Belacan Recipe

Strictly speaking, a Sambal Belcan requires on Chillies, Salt, and Belacan, but there is no rule restricting you to these ingredients.

My Sambal Belacan Recipe is an interpretation of a Sambal Belacan brought back to me from an open-air market in Singapore. The result is a little tangier than the one I received as a gift, and I rather think that it had less Tomato and Lime Juice than mine. Still I like the result the way it is and you can certainly play with the amounts as you see fit.

The Dried Galanga called for in the Recipe Card below appears in the above picture just in front of the stalk of Lemongrass. If you are not familiar with this ingredient, you may wish to have a look at my Introduction to Galanga. Fresh Galanga is the best, if you can find it, but absent the dried slices, you are best to avoid buying the Powdered variety and just omit it entirely.

The Method

Preparing Ingredients for use in Sambal Belacan
Preparing Ingredients for use in Sambal Belacan

First, toast the coriander seeds in a dry pan and then grind them together with the dried Galanga. Sift the result to remove any hard fragments that still survive. Toast the Belacan in a dry pan at fairly high heat, breaking it up as you do so until it forms a dry crumbly powder.  This is quite an ‘aromatic’ operation and, though I like the smell, some people like to keep the windows open or do it outside. Finally, finely chop the lemongrass stalk and then grind it to a paste along with the salt using a mortar and pestle.

Processing the Ingredients for a Sambal Belacan
Processing the Ingredients for a Sambal Belacan

Blend all the ingredients to a smooth paste in a mortar or a food processor.

Cooking Sambal Belacan
Cooking Sambal Belacan

Heat a suitable pan over a high flame and add the paste. Once it begins to steam and bubble vigorously, you will need to stir constantly as it cooks to keep it from sticking to the bottom of the pan and burning. As the moisture cooks out, you will see that the mass begins to pull away from the sides and bottom of the pot as you stir. Once the oil starts to separate out, the cooking is done.

Sambal Belcan as a Condiment
Sambal Belcan as a Condiment

Allow to cool and then transfer to a suitable jar or other receptacle for storage. If storing for more than a few days, it is advisable to cover the surface with a little oil to keep out the air.

Using this Sambal Belcan Recipe

Sambal Belcan as a Condiment
Sambal Belcan as a Condiment

Having been cooked, this Sambal Belacan Recipe can be used as a condiment as well as a cooking ingredient. It will add a nice jolt of flavor to plain boiled noodles or rice, for example.

Sambal Belcan with Chicken Wings
Sambal Belcan with Chicken Wings

Here, Sambal Belacan is used to coat cooked Chicken Wings much as a commercial Hot Sauce is used in restaurants in the West.

A Malaysian-style Curry using Sambal Belacan
A Malaysian-style Curry using Sambal Belacan

Finally, Sambal Belacan is used as the ‘Curry Paste’ in the above Malasian style Curry of Beef shown above.

Your Recipe Card:

Sambal Belacan Recipe

This Sambal Belacan Recipe uses the Dried Shrimp product known as Belcan, and a complex blend of spices to make a rich and fiery Curry Paste.
Course: Condiment, Spice Blend
Cuisine: Malaysian
Keyword: Belacan, Chili, Coriander Seed, Dried Shrimp Paste, Galanga, Lemongrass, Salt
Author: John Thompson

Ingredients

  • 1 ½ cups fresh red chili peppers seeded and chopped
  • 1 medium Tomato seeded and chopped
  • 1 small Onion chopped
  • 4 cm. thick slice of Belacan
  • 6 cloves Garlic chopped
  • 2 slices fresh Ginger chopped
  • 1 3 ” piece of Lemongrass
  • 1 slice dried Galanga
  • 1 tbsp. Coriander seed
  • 1 ½ tbsp. Sugar
  • 1 ½ tsp. Salt
  • 2 tbsp. Lime juice
  • 1/3 cup Oil.

Instructions

  • Toast the coriander seeds in a dry pan and then grind them to a powder together with the dried Galanga
  • Toast the Belacan in a dry pan, breaking it up as you do so to form a dry crumbly powder.
  • Finely chop the lemongrass stalk and grind it to a paste along with the salt.
  • Blend all the ingredients to a smooth paste in a mortar or a food processor.
  • Cook the paste in a pan over moderate heat, stirring regularly, until the water content has evaporated and the oil begins to separate out from the mix.
  • Allow to cool and then transfer to a suitable jar or other receptacle for storage.

Comments, questions or suggestions most welcome!