Sambal belacan

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This sambal recipe is a Malaysian chilli sauce flavoured with belacan, a type of shrimp paste full of umami and depth. Fantastic spooned over all manner of Malay and Singaporean dishes. Take a look at all of Helen's hot sauce recipes here.

First published in 2019
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Sambal is native to the cuisines of Indonesia and is popular throughout Malaysia, Singapore, Sri Lanka and Brunei. This Malaysian-style sambal belacan is made with shrimp paste and at its most simple contains just three ingredients – chillies, shrimp paste and lime juice. Other ingredients can then be added to personalise the mixture as I’ve done here.

The shrimp paste has been produced by salting, drying and fermenting shrimp which makes for a very funky smelling brick of umami. Once toasted and mixed with other ingredients, however, it brings fantastic savoury depth to the sauce and plays well off the sourness and heat to balance everything. It’s an essential accompaniment to many Malaysian meals.

This recipe makes approximately 600ml of sauce.





  • Pestle and mortar


Toast the block of belacan in a dry pan on all sides until it starts to break up. Keep doing this until it crumbles into small pieces (around 3 minutes). Set aside to cool
Deseed the chillies and chop them into small pieces
Add the chillies to a pestle and mortar with the salt and pound to a rough paste, then add the shrimp paste, shallots, sugar and garlic and pound until you have a paste (it may be helpful to do this in batches)
Squeeze in the juice of 1 lime and mix. Taste and add more lime juice if necessary
Finally, stir in the oil, which will help to preserve the sambal. Store in the fridge for up to 3 days
First published in 2019

Helen Graves is Head of Content at Great British Chefs. She's also the author of the cookbook LIVE FIRE: Seasonal Barbecue Recipes and Stories of Live Fire Traditions, Old and New, and the editor of Pit, an independent magazine with roots in live fire cooking.

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