Saturday, 7 August 2010

Sambal Tumis

This post is specially dedicated to my friend Maggie, who wants to know how to make my Sambal Tumis. =)

Sambal Tumis is the flavour of my growing up. My granny would fry fish and then fry this sambal to lovingly slather over the fish. My Peranakan granny would make this sambal enough for the fish and have me help her prepare the ingredients by peeling the shallots, garlic and deseed the chilis.

Sadly, it is only after she passed away this year, that I rediscovered and was able to recreat this most versatile and delicious sambal. I found a simple recipe online, and with "agak"-ation (that most typical way of cooking my granny does, by estimation ;P), I've managed to tweak it to that taste that never fails to remind me of Ah Mah.

Furthermore, the website I found the recipe also suggests making the sambal in a larger batch, so that unlike Ah Mah's way of frying the sambal only when needed, all I need to do is to scoop a tablespoon or so out and add it to whatever I have on hand to make a dish - hard-boiled eggs, fishball, prawns, squid and yes, fried fish. =) The sambal is a good intro for young kids to eating spices because despite its fierce RED, the spiciness is actually very mild. The kick to the sambal is actually the blend of the garlic and onions, giving it a lovely pungent flavour to the whole. Part of the redness is from the dried chili - which explains the mildness of the spice. Fresh chilis would have made for a more fiery sambal.

Therefore, the recipe I'm posting here makes about 600+ gram or 2 jam jars of the sambal. I usually freeze one jam jar and they do keep very well because of the oil and spices in the sambal.

To be pounded or processed into a paste:

100g Dried Chili (After measuring it out, deseed the chili, and soak for at least half an hour. Then drain. You can replace this with fresh chili for a spicier sambal, but the dried chili version keeps better than the fresh chili version.)
400g Shallots (or a shallot/Red onion mix or just red onions)
35g Garlic
9 pieces Candlenut (aka Buah Keras. Or if Candlenuts aren't available, substitute it with Macadamia nuts)
45g Belachan (toasted either in a toaster oven or pan-fry it dry; doing so will heighten its flavour.)

Because of the amount of spices involved, it would take a lot of energy to "tumbok" it in a pestle and mortar. Therefore I use a food processor to blitz my spices. However, to make sure that my spices are blended into a texture like pounding, I process my spices individually and then mix them in a bowl. However, if your food processor is larger, you may blend your spices together, and to help faciliate the blending, just add a little water or oil.

Also, the amount is an estimate. If you prefer a sweeter version of this, add more onions. More pungent? Add more garlic. Spicier? Then go with fresh chilis - or better yet, throw in a few chili padis! More lemak? More nuts. ;P

To be prepared ahead and added while frying:

60ml Assam water (or about 4 tsp Assam/Tamarind pulp mixed with 60 ml of water and strained.)
2.5 tbsp Sugar (or more if you like the paste sweeter)
1/2 tsp Salt (to taste - and depending on the brand of your belachan.)

  1. Heat up 1/2 cup of heart-healthy oil in a wok. (I use Canola oil. =)) Test the readiness of the oil with a small bit of the paste. When you see the small amount of paste sizzle, add in all the paste into the wok and set the timer for 10 minutes. Keep stirring the paste on and off for this duration at low to medium heat. There won't seem like much going on, just a bit of steaming, but this initial blending of the spices is to prepare it for the second step.

  2. The chair is there to facilitate the long process of frying the sambal. ;P See the amount of oil bubbling in the wok below:
  3. At the 10 minute mark, add the Assam water, sugar and salt. After adding the condiments, you could taste test and add more sugar or salt where needed. Continue frying about 15 to 20 minutes more at low heat.
  4. You'll notice that the paste appears to absorb all the oil, and there isn't a lot of bubbling, just a lot of evaporation:
  5. Towards the end of the frying time, you'll notice that some of the oil starts to separate from the paste, and there's a lot of steam produced. This is a good sign that your sambal is heading for completion. =)
  6. The sambal also looks dryer and stickier:
  7. Once the time is up, and you see that your sambal has turned a darker shade of red, remove it from the wok into a clean and dry bowl to cool. Once it is cooled, store it in clean glass jar in the fridge.

To use:
Be as creative as you like:
  1. To oil in a pan or wok, add about 1 to 2 tablespoonful (or more) of the sambal to warm it up and make it more pliable after its stint in the fridge.
  2. Add in other ingredient of choice. eg.
  • Hard boiled Eggs or Quail's Eggs
  • Ikan Bilis (Fry the ikan bilis first, then add the sambal into the pan)
  • Fish ball (Fry the fish balls first)
  • Prawns or Squid or other seafood (Fry the seafood a little first, then add in the sambal)
  • Fried fish (Fry the fish and plate it first, then fry the sambal and pour it over the fish)
Or use the sambal as a dipping sauce for Nasi Lemak, or eat it with keropok. Or like Ethan did - he added it to his Macaroni & Cheese! lol!

I love it added to my dry instant noodles - those instant noodles I buy without the soup condiments. It's lovely mixed in the noodles, with a sunny-side up egg on top. =)

It's also good on its own.


Maggie said...

Thank you, Brenda! I've never had anything dedicated to me in a blog before! Thanks for the love and patience-filled sambal tumis that you gave, and I managed to bring back to the US with me. Yummy!

Leng Leng said...

Thanks Brenda.

I'm really touched when I read that this receipe is passed down by your grandmother and I could to the loving remembrance while while re-create this dish.

My grandmother passed away two years ago. As I read this article, I am encouraged to recall whether there is a special food which reminds me of her fondly.

My Ah Ma version's of the french toast would be it.

Shu Han said...

Hi! Your recipe's great! I've adapted it slightly, but nonetheless I want to thank you for helping me find a true time-tested sambal tumis recipe! also great that you said everything's flexible, made me less worried about getting everything right, and instead I could focus on creating a sambal chili that my mum approves of (:

Brenda said...

Hi Shu Han,

I'm glad you like the sambal tumis recipe! =)

Enjoy your cooking journey!

Phoebe Ho said...

Hello Brenda,
sometimes when i cook sambal tumis, it will turn out bitter, i'm quite sure it's the onions but not sure why. can you help me please?
Thank you :)

Brenda said...

Hi Phoebe,

If it's bitter, it's usually because the spices have been cooked on too high a heat, causing (most likely) the garlic to be burnt.

The onions tend to caramelise, so they would be sweet, but if cooked on too high a heat, they might also burn. The colours might not show though - because of the oils and the red from the chili.

eki said...

Hello there i am glad i came to your website. I have once try to cook sambal (have yet to try yours) but it failed. i end up having the taste of the raw pungent dried chili even though its have changed color. the taste is there but i still have the pungent dry chili taste. any idea why is this? i tried to search but your website is the most detailed one i came across. oh yes i have soaked the chilli for half hr n then rinse with tap water before hand. could it be the dried chilli? and you mention fresh red chilli ? will there be any difference to the taste. sorry for the long questions. im still a newbie with sambal tumis

Brenda said...

I don't know which recipe you've tried, or if your recipe called for soaking the dried chili. If you're wondering if my recipe would work, why not halve the the ingredients and try it out?
I really can't explain why you got a pungent dry chilli taste in your recipe because I don't know what steps you did.

Satirical Technology said...

Thank you for this post. My grandma is still alive but unfortunately she's suffering from dementia. Maybe I should try to recreate her ketupat pulot with serunding and share a bowl with her before it's too late. Memories from childhood will always be the best memories.