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Sambal

Updated February 23, 2016
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There’s no more classic Indonesian condiment than this fiery tangle of chiles and spices-and no better match to ham, whether in Asian preparations or simply as a condiment for a roast ham of almost any stripe.

In Bali, sambal is spooned onto rice at breakfast, lunch, and dinner. It’s so popular globally that it’s now found in East Indian cuisine, Thai cooking, and even in traditional Chinese woks. At Asian markets and even in most North American supermarkets these days, the bottlings come in a dazzling variety: from pure chiles without much else to more aromatic blends (as in this recipe).

Rice vinegar, sometimes called rice wine vinegar, comes in two forms: seasoned and not. A perfect pantry has both, but a well-stocked one has the unseasoned variety. “Seasoned” simply means there’s sugar in the mix-the bottle is usually marked “seasoned” on the label, even in tiny type. Unseasoned is never marked in any way-nor indeed called “unseasoned” in this book, except in this one paragraph where the differentiation matters. All our recipes call for the unseasoned variety-or simply “rice vinegar.” If you’re in doubt about what you’ve got, look at the ingredients listed on the label. You don’t want to see sugar or any other sweetener. By the way, if you ever need seasoned rice vinegar but only have the regular stuff, use the amount required but add 1/8 teaspoon granulated white sugar for every ½ teaspoon unseasoned rice vinegar.

CostInexpensive

Moderate

Total Timeunder 30 minutes

Make Ahead RecipeYes

Equipmentfood processor

Taste and Texturegarlicky, hot & spicy, savory, sweet, tangy

Type of DishCondiments

Ingredients

  • 2 small Roma or plum tomatoes
  • ¼ cup small red hot chiles (such as red serranos or Thai hots) stemmed but not seeded
  • 2 medium shallots, chopped
  • 1 medium garlic clove, minced
  • 2½ tablespoons peanut oil
  • 2 tablespoons water
  • 1 tablespoon rice vinegar (see Notes)
  • 1 tablespoon packed light brown sugar
  • ½ teaspoon salt

Instructions

Place the tomatoes in a small pot, cover with water, and bring to a boil over high heat. Cook for 3 minutes, then gently remove the tomatoes with a slotted spoon (keep the water in the saucepan). Run the tomatoes under cold water to stop the cooking and loosen the skins. Peel off skins, cut the tomatoes open, scoop out and discard the seeds, and place the tomatoes in a food processor fitted with the chopping blade.

Bring the water in the saucepan back to a boil over high heat and make the chiles take a dive. Boil for 5 minutes. Transfer the chiles to the food processor. (You can discard the water in the pan now.)

Add the shallots and garlic to the food processor. Lock on the lid and process until pasty but still a little grainy, scraping down the sides of the canister as necessary.

Turn the vent on so the chile oils won’t bowl you over-or open a kitchen window and get a fan blowing through the area. Heat a large skillet over medium heat, then add the oil. Tip and tilt the skillet so its bottom is thoroughly coated, then add all the chile paste from the food processor. Fry this paste until exquisitely aromatic and a little thickened, about 5 minutes, stirring almost the whole time.

Stir in the water, vinegar, brown sugar, and salt. Reduce the heat a little and continue cooking, stirring often, until all the oil and water have been absorbed and the mixture is a fiery, thick condiment, about like grainy ketchup. Store in a glass container in the refrigerator for up to 2 months. (The sambal actually tastes best if it’s allowed to ripen a few days before using.)

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