I was in the mood for some flavorful fiery Southeast Asian food the other day. Normally when that happens I go for Thai or Vietnamese but this time I decided to “travel” further south, closer to the waters of the Mallaca Strait, Java Sea, Sulu Sea and so on. That’s where Sambal originates.

calamari and tiger prawns in Sambal sauce

calamari and tiger prawns in Sambal sauce

Sambal is a spicy sauce basically made with crushed chili peppers, garlic, ginger, sugar, onions, shallots, some sour agent such as tamarind or lime juice, anchovies, shrimp paste (belacan), etc. Enfin, this sauce is bold.

I’ve never used belacan before. It is famous for being quite stinky, so I was a bit nervous about it. Steven always complains that my nose is too sensitive. Would this kill me to smell? Well, I survived. Surprisingly, I can’t decide which stinks the most: fish sauce or belacan. And I didn’t think that fish sauce is really that bad. What do you think? All I can say with certainty is that these ancient condiments impart a wonderful and unique umami flavor to food. They’re really quite popular and are widely used in Southeast Asia, and with good reason. Never be discouraged by their smell in the “fresh” state. Once cooked, they are the best!

The recipe is quite easy to make, but you need a food processor to grind the paste conveniently.

key ingredients for calamari and tiger prawns in Sambal sauce

key ingredients for calamari and tiger prawns in Sambal sauce

calamari and tiger prawns in Sambal sauce

1 lb calamari bodies, cleaned and cut into ¼ inch thick rings
6 medium tiger prawns, tail on, shelled and deveined
1 inch cube dried tamarind, soaked in 1¼ cup warm water for 45 minutes
½ medium white or Vidalia onion, cut into thin slivers
3 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp shrimp paste (belacan)
4 ripe Roma tomatoes
1 tbsp sugar
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
Cilantro leaves

Sambal paste:

1 inch thick piece fresh ginger, peeled and roughly chopped
8 dried chili peppers (I used chile de arbol)
3 shallots
2 cloves of garlic

Place Sambal ingredients in a food processor and process into a paste. Use a spatula to push down bits that stick to the edges.

Squish tamarind with your fingers until dissolved. Juice will be a bit thick. Pass it through a strainer. Discard solid parts.

Heat olive oil in a heavy bottom pan. Add Sambal paste and stir until raw aromas are gone and you see paste separating from oil. Add calamari and shrimp and cook for just a minute. Remove shellfish to a warm bowl and reserve, leaving as much Sambal sauce in the pan as possible. Add tomato, salt, onion and belacan and cook until onion has softened. Add tamarind juice, sugar, black pepper and salt, then simmer for about 8 minutes. Remove from heat, add calamari and prawns back to pan and allow them to warm through for a couple of minutes. Adjust salt. Serve over fragrant jasmine rice. Garnish with fresh cilantro leaves.

This recipe has been adapted from here

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