How to make the perfect sambal sauce

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Out of all the delicious sauces that define Asian cuisine, sambal chilli paste has to be one of the most popular. Here's how to make it at home.

Many dishes of Malay or Southeast Asian origin would never be complete with a side dish of sambal, or chilli, paste.

The paste on its own doesn’t just add the kick of spiciness to the whatever you’re cooking with, but also a tang of sweetness and saltiness.

Many iconic Southeast Asian dishes, such as sambal sotong, sambal stingray or sambal eggs would never achieve their modern day popularity without a good sambal paste.

The good news? You can make it at home with every day ingredients without taking too long or messing up your kitchen.

How to Make Sambal Sauce: Pound it or Blend it, then stir fry

Making sambal goreng is pretty simple. First, you mash the ingredients into a fine paste, and then fry it to cook the chilis and cook of the water. Doing so makes it more concentrated. Finally, add in aromatics (lemongrass) or other taste modifiers (sugar or salt) so that the sauce is made to taste.

Other than the quality and ratio of the ingredients, there is another factor that makes a BIG difference which you might not have known about: the equipment. A mortar and pestle does a better job of releasing the flavours into a paste than a food processor.

For this recipe, the ingredients we have included can be both be processed via a  food processor or a mortar pestle. Perhaps you can try both - the difference in taste between one made by a food processor and mortar and pestle might surprise you!

How to Make Sambal Goreng, or Fried Chilli Paste

Makes 500g of chilli paste

Kitchen equipment that you’ll need:

  • A mortar and pestle OR a food processor
  • A large frying pan
  • Frying pan ladle
  • Storage containers (either glass or plastic is fine)

Here's what you'll need:

  • 4 pieces of  roasted candlenuts
  • 30 grams of Birds eye chillis
  • 12 grams of Chilli
  • 50 grams of garlic
  • 100 grams of shallots
  • 150 grams of onions
  • 15 grams of toasted shrimp belacan paste (fry in a wok without oil)
  • 120 ml of water
  • 90 ml of vegetable or canola oil
  • 20 grams of salt
  • 120ml water
  • 90 ml of vegetable or canola oil
  • 20 grams of salt

Optional ingredients to make the sauce sweeter:

  • 10 grams of Tamarind (to mix with water below and sieved)
  • 2 tablespoons ofWater (to mix with tamarind above and sieved)
  • 100 grams of Brown, palm or granulated sugar (to sweeten the chilli sauce)

Optional ingredients to give the sauce better aroma:

  • 2-3 stalks of Lemongrass (to add aroma to the chilli sauce)
  • 5 Kaffir Lime Leaves (to add aroma to the chilli sauce)
  • 45 grams ofGinger (to get rid of any ‘fishy’ smells when cooking with seafood

The magic of pounding and frying

Make the sauce

  • Combine all the ingredients into a mortar and pestle and begin crushing them.
  • If you are using a food processor, put all the ingredients into the food processor and turn it on.
  • Continue crushing or blending the ingredients until a smooth, even paste is formed.

Cook it through

  • Heat the wok or frying pan at medium heat, then scrape of the chilli sauce into the skillet.

Dry out the sauce.

  • Once in a while, stir the chilli sauce so that it doesn’t burn. Continue cooking until the sauce becomes a dry paste.

Stir the aromatics.

  • Pour some oil around the chilli paste and onto the pan, and then add your aromatics (lemongrass, kaffir lime leaves).
  • Continue stirring for 5 more minutes.

Adjust the sauce to taste.

  • Once you can see the oil separating from the chilli paste, lower the heat, and add in tamarind, sugar and salt.
  • Adjust as desired and make sure everything has been well combined.
  • Then, take it off the heat.

Cool the sauce and store.

  • Once the sauce has reached room temperature, put it into an airtight container. This chilli sauce can last for a week and can withstand freezing.

Fried Chilli paste, or sambal goreng, is easy to make and is a great accompaniment to other dishes such as fried chicken, seafood and yellow rice.

Not only do they last long, but they add tons of flavour to any dish. Try out our other recipes, such as sambal eggs, sambal stingray and sambal sotong to put your fresh sambal paste into good use.

Read also: How to make Malaysian-style Sambal Stingray