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Javanese Sambal

This image courtesy of Christopher Hirsheimer

This is the most popular sambal in Indonesia. It has a mellow, rather than fiery, taste because it’s slowly sautéed over a low fire, which brings out the sweetness of the chiles rather than their heat. Although the palm sugar distinguishes this sambal as Javanese, sautéed sambals like this one turn up throughout Indonesia, Malaysia, and Singapore. Tasting neither too hot nor too complex, it’s a perfect accompaniment to nearly every savory dish in this book.

Cooking Methodsauteeing

CostInexpensive

Easy

Total Timeunder 1 hour

Make Ahead RecipeYes

Dietary Considerationegg-free, gluten-free, lactose-free, soy free, tree nut free

Equipmentfood processor

Five Ingredients or LessYes

Taste and Texturehot & spicy, savory, sweet

Type of DishCondiments

Ingredients

  • 4 tablespoons peanut oil
  • 1 teaspoon dried shrimp paste, pressed into a disk about ¼ inch (6 millimeters) thick
  • 5 shallots (about 3 ¾ ounces/110 grams total), coarsely chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, coarsely chopped
  • 12 fresh red Holland chiles or other fresh long, red chiles such as Fresno or cayenne, stemmed and coarsely chopped
  • 1 teaspoon palm sugar, thinly sliced, or dark brown sugar (for a slightly sweeter sambal, increase the sugar by 1 teaspoon)
  • ½ teaspoon kosher salt

Instructions

  1. Heat the oil in a 12-inch (30-centimeter) skillet (nonstick will work best) over medium heat. Add the shrimp paste disk and sauté it, turning it over a few times with a spatula, until both sides have golden brown spots around the edges, 2 to 4 minutes. Don’t worry if the shrimp paste crumbles as you are sautéing it. If it does break apart, just continue sautéing until all the pieces are edges with golden brown. Using a slotted spoon, remove the shrimp paste from the skillet and allow it to cool for 1 minute. Set the skillet aside with the oil in it.

  2. Place the sautéed shrimp paste, shallots, garlic, chiles, palm sugar, and salt in a small food processor. Pulse until you have a chunky-smooth paste the consistency of cooked oatmeal.

  3. Reheat the oil in the skillet over medium-low heat. Test to see if the oil is the right temperature by adding a pinch of the ground paste. The paste should sizzle slightly around the edges, not fry aggressively or sit motionless. When the oil is ready, add all the paste and sauté, stirring as needed to prevent sticking, until most of the liquid from the chiles and shallots have evaporated and the paste begins to separated from the oil, 9 to 14 minutes. The aroma should be subtle sweet, not harsh and oniony, and the color should be a few shades darker than when the paste was raw. Taste for salt, and add a punch more if needed.

  4. Transfer the sambal to a small bowl and allow it to cool completely before eating. Leave it in the small bowl for guests to spoon from directly, or place in small individual bowls. Leftover sambal can be refrigerated for up to 1 week, but let it come to room temperature before serving to enjoy its full flavor.

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