People have asked me when is a spice paste, a “REMPAH” or a “Sambal”. I was taught that “Rempah” is the raw state of the spice paste but once it’s cooked, we call it “sambal”. So today, I will begin with Sambal Garam Assam. This spice paste is a combination of fresh turmeric, lemongrass, candlenuts, fresh galangal, red chillies, dry chillies, toasted shrimp paste (belachan) and shallots. It is finely ground, then fried in oil until the oil separates from the paste and the paste becomes shiny and fragrant. The Peranakans call this “pecah minyak”. That’s when the sambal is at its best.
The SAMBAL GARAM ASSAM in our bottle weighs about 200 gm which is enough to cook between 500 – 600 gm of seafood. The ready-to-eat paste with its seasoning accurately measured out does not require additional seasoning. All you need to do is to add 300 ml hot water into the paste and bring it to a boil before adding your seafood. If you like it more diluted, add more hot water. If you are entertaining and want a more professional approach, stir-fry some aromatics in one tablespoon hot oil before adding the spice paste. This is how you do it: Stir-fry one stalk lemongrass (bruised), 5 x 2 mm pieces of galangal and a handful of kaffir lime leaves in the hot oil. Once aromatic, add the whole bottle of paste and 300 ml hot water. This is the master stock.
With this, you may cook “Masak Kuah Nanas” – you add about 200 gm sliced honey pineapples, let it simmer for about 5 minutes, then add big prawns (Udang Masak Kuah Nanas) or you may add fish (Ikan Masak Kuah Nanas). If you like, you may add a little coconut milk just before serving. This gives the dish a richer taste, and cut down on the tanginess of the assam. A handful of laksa leaves or basil leaves just before serving will give the dish an aromatic lift and an attractive presentation.
You may also cook “Ikan Garam Assam” – add brinjals/eggplant to the gravy, let it cook for five minutes, then add the fish and ladyfingers, or instead of fish, you may add prawns, squids and scallops to the gravy for a mixed seafood dish. The tanginess of the dish is excellent with rice and more often than not, this dish is enough to provide a balanced meal in a Peranakan household.
The GARAM ASSAM sambal can also be made into a thick sambal. Dice one onion, add four lime leaves, and stir-fry till soft and add half a bottle of the spice paste. Stir-fry in low heat, add about 50 ml of hot water to make a thick sambal. Serve this sambal with fried or grilled fish or prawns, and grilled sotong. And do you know, that the sambal is excellent with pan-fried salmon?
Other than the main dishes above, the sambal can be used to fry the yellow noodles to make Mee Goreng. Just slice one big onion and stir-fry till fragrant, add marinated seafood (you can marinate with salt and a little of the spice paste), add the noodles and stir-fry in high heat to get the wok breath. Then bring down the fire, add the spice paste and vegetables, and finished with a sprinkle of sliced egg omelette and spring onions.