Sunday, August 16, 2009
It is amazing what the addition of one ingredient can do to the complexity and flavor of a simple chili sauce. In a previous post I described the process of making a basic Sambal. A reader from Malaysia commented that she usually adds Balachan, or Shrimp Paste, to her home made Sambals, and that it was a very popular condiment in her country.
This sounded intriguing to me and I thought I would give it a try. Balachan is made from tiny shrimp that have been salted, dried, pounded and then left to ferment in the hot humid conditions of southeast Asia. It is sold in it's raw state of ultra pungent, rotten fish smelling goodness. It can be used directly as is if it will be added as a cooking ingredient or marinade, but if it is going to be added to a finished sauce or salad dressing, it must be cooked first. I found a great way to do this in one of my Asian cookbooks.
By cooking the Balachan in a foil packet, you eliminate most of the very strong smell that is given off by the process. And I say most of, because even this method of cooking the Balachan fills the air with a not entirely unpleasant, but very strong and distinct odor. Both of my sons wandered into the kitchen asking what the heck I was cooking? I can't imagine what the house would have smelled like if I had not used this method...
...about 4-5 minutes over a low flame turns the Balachan into a deep roasted brown color...
..add about 1 tsp of the roasted Shrimp Paste to a basic Sambal paste (Red Chili Peppers, Salt, Lemon Grass) Process in a food processor or use a traditional mortar & pestle method...
The addition of Balachan dramatically changes the flavor of Sambal. Like all Sambals, this is extremely hot and should be used sparingly. The addition of the salty and fishy Shrimp Paste nicely balances the heat of the Chili Peppers. Even my oldest son, who is a notoriously picky eater, tasted this and while he didn't love it, he agreed that it was pleasantly unique.
My younger son held up the jar of raw Shrimp Paste and taunted his older brother by saying, "You just ate this stuff !?!"
5 Minute Sambal
Note- Balachan is also known as Blachan, Belachan, Terasi, Trassi, Kapi, and Ngapi