For many families in Singapore, a meal is not complete without a generous side of sambal belacan. The highlight of the condiment is belacan, fermented shrimp paste, which lends an aromatic pungency. This popular hot sauce, accented with makrut lime leaf, is slung over noodles, stuffed into fried mackerel, or used as a dip for crispy prawn crackers. This recipe is adapted from food writer Sharon Wee’s cookbook, “Growing Up in a Nonya Kitchen.” Ms. Wee, who is Peranakan (an ethnic group with mixed Malay, Chinese and European heritage), said in her book that no Peranakan woman “would be worth her salt if she could not concoct this at home.”
- Serves: 1 person
- ½ounce/15 grams belacan, also known as dried shrimp paste (about ¼-inch slice; see Tip)
- 3Holland chiles or other fresh red chiles
- 1fresh makrut lime leaf, stem and rib removed
- ¼teaspoon granulated sugar, plus more to taste
- Salt (optional)
- 2calamansi limes or 1 regular lime, quartered
Step 1Belacan has an intense aroma, so it is best to open a window or turn on the stove’s exhaust fan to its highest setting when toasting it. Toast the belacan in a frying pan over medium heat, using the back of a spatula to rub it against the surface of the pan. Stir and continue to toast until it is brittle and lightens in color, about 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and reserve.
Step 2Seed the chiles if you prefer a milder sauce. Finely chop the chiles. Transfer the chiles and makrut lime leaf to a mortar, and grind with a pestle until blended. Stir in the toasted belacan and continue to pound until you obtain a fine, dark paste. If you don’t have a mortar and pestle, pulse the ingredients with a small blender or food processor to form a chunky purée. Use a spatula to keep pressing down the paste as you blend to make it smoother.
Step 3Add sugar and salt to taste. Sugar helps tone down the pungency; salt is optional and usually unnecessary. The sauce should be a balance between savory and spicy. Cover and store in the refrigerator for up to 3 days. When ready to serve, squeeze the limes into the sambal and mix well.