What is it for…

Now, how do I define sambal? It is not just a dip as there are the various types of sambal that one would use to cook say, Sarawak laksa or masak hitam…and then of course, we have the sambal for frying midin (wild jungle fern) or kangkong and other vegetables…so I guess it would be more accurate to say that sambal comprises all the ingredients pounded or blended together…and there can be so many different combinations when it comes to all the things that go into a sambal.

The other day, for instance, when I cooked Sarawak laksa, I prepared this sambal belacan (dried prawn paste)…

Sambal belacan

This is easy to prepare – just pound chilies, sliced thinly and belacan together. Some people will add a squeeze of calamansi lime to make it less dry and that would also enhance the taste of the dip. How good your sambal belacan is, of course, would depend on the quality of the belacan you use (for us here, the best would be the expensive ones from Bintulu that are worth their weight in gold) and also how spicy hot your chilies are. These days, I get quite fed up with those that I get from the market sometimes – not hot at all, only good for colour and presentation. For the uninitiated, this sambal would go superbly well as a dip for plain boiled pork (just boil, no need to add salt or anything) or stewed/braised pork or pork leg…or roast pork belly. It is so very nice that it will definitely leave you longing for more, I tell you.

Other than the aforementioned, this dip is also good for ulams – you can boil/blanch vegetables like kangkong, long beans, ladies’ fingers, four-angle beans…or steam some cut brinjal…or cut raw cucumber into bite-size chunks to eat with the sambal but if you asked my grandma or my mum and her sisters in the kampung (village) way back when, they would probably tell you that this would be the appropriate sambal for the boiled/blanched/steamed vegetables and they would have something else specially for cucumber…as well as others for other things.

Anyway, the other day, my missus asked me to deep-fry some fish and I thought I could make a special sambal to go with that. I remember I used to eat this fish at the Indonesian nasi padang shops or stalls in Singapore way back in 1973 and they would bury the cooked fish under a blanket of pounded chili or there would be a slit by the side of each fish and they would stuff the sambal in it. I don’t know whether theirs was such plain chili or whether they had their own recipe for it but I had a fairly clear idea how I wanted mine.

I had chilies, lots of those, in mine and also garlic…

Sambal cili 1

…and I pounded them all together. This pounded chili with garlic is also what we would use when we have steamboat in the house or when we make our own popiah (spring rolls) or kuih pai tee (top hats) at home. If it had been for beef, I would have used ginger instead.

Sambal cili 2

Yes, yes, that’s a plastic chair that you can see in the photograph.  I am too fat to get on the floor, you see…and we have a glass-topped kitchen table…and my missus has a whole lot of things lined up on the kitchen counters so if I were to do the pounding there, the vibrations might send them toppling over the edge. So what I usually do would be to sit in one chair and do all the pounding on another chair placed right in front of me. I would say that it works fine for me…except that sometimes, I get little spots and splashes all over the front of my t-shirt. LOL!!!!

I would pound until all the seeds are gone, or most of them, at least…which is something quite impossible if you are using a blender. You can grind as long as you like – the seeds will still be there staring back at you the moment you stop. Once I was happy with the end result, I added some calamansi lime juice to it and some sugar to counter-balance the sour taste and stirred it well…

Sambal cili 3

Now, back to the fish, I am not really sure how they usually go about it but once, long long ago when I was not really into cooking at the time, I tried cutting slits in the fish and stuffing them with the pounded chili. However, in the process of deep-frying, all the chili came out and got burnt in the hot oil so eventually, I ended up with one horrible mess. Tsk! Tsk!

This time around, I tried cutting a slit in one and after deep-frying, I pried it open and put in the sambal

Fish & sambal 2

Hmmmm….it certainly looked good!

Fish & sambal 2

But frankly, I think I would not bother unless it is for some special function as this would probably look better for presentation when served. Otherwise, it would be just as nice to eat the deep-fried fish just like that, adding the sambal generously to it in the process.

So, there you have it – my sambal cili with bawang putih (garlic) – absolutely great as a dip and would certainly whet one’s appetite, that’s for sure.