You love hot & spicy? You need sambal oelek!
I love cooking with jalapenos, chili flakes, serranos, cayenne, hot curry ... and just about every other spice that adds some nice "heat" to a dish. I was talking to a chef friend recently about where he sourced his wholesale spices, and the subject of chili flakes came up. He told me about an Indonesian chili sauce called "sambal oelek" which, according to my friend, is a secret of many chefs. It adds chili heat to dishes without changing the core flavors of the underlying dish.
Well, I looked all over San Francisco and finally found it! That night I came home and made a thai steak salad and added a tablespoon of sambal oelek to the dressing -- perfect! I've since added a little to seafood dishes, black bean chili, meatloaf, and even my grandmother's famous mac and cheese recipe. It adds a delicious layer of spice and complexity to everything. For someone who cooks with so much spice, and who lives around so many Asian markets, I can't believe I didn't know about this stuff.
I'm curious if anyone else uses it? If so...do you have any good recipes that call for it?
One of my mother-in-law's signature dishes, which she made at least once a month, was the African dish fish thieboudienne. I once suggested she add about a teaspoon of sambal to the sauce, and it was like the rug in THE BIG LEBOWSKI: it really tied the whole dish together. From that day forward, sambal was a crucial addition to the dish.
I use it in tomato-based pasta sauces sometimes too.
Oh my gosh, you must try this. Gary Rosen, a chef in Bali gave me this recipe. It calls for a cup of sambal olek, but even when I reduce it to half a cup it's HOT. I added a bit of brown sugar to counteract the heat. I also didn't follow all the steps: I heated ground spices, made a paste in the blender, and then stewed the beef in the paste. I couldn't figure out the need to marinate when I was braising the beef in the paste 2 or more hours. He didn't say what to do with the lemongrass. I blended in the tender parts, and let the tough parts cook with the stew along with curry leaves, pulling them out later.
Beef Rendang Indonesian beef stew cooked in coconut milk
1.5 kg beef, cut into large cubes
12 shallots, chopped (or 2 onions)
5 cloves of garlic, chopped
4 pieces of galangal sliced
1 inch of fresh ginger, grated
(half) cup of Sambal Ulek (Indonesian chili sauce. Can be found in most Asian grocers)
4 stems of lemongrass
1 tsp turmeric
1 tsp coriander
1 tsp cumin seeds
5 curry leaves (optional)
3 cups of coconut milk
1 tsp of tamarind, in 4 tablespoons of warm water
2 Tbsp of soy Sauce
salt to taste
Process the shallots, garlic, galangal, ginger, sambal ulek and turmeric to a
smooth paste. Dry fry the coriander and cumin until they give off a good
aroma, then grind them finely and add to the paste. Spoon it all over the
cubed meat in a bowl and mix it well. Add the curry leaves and marinate for
Pour the coconut milk and tamarind liquid into a wok and add the spiced
meat and soy sauce and stir until the liquid boils, then reduce the heat and
simmer gently, uncovered, for 11/2 hours, until the meat is tender and the
liquid is very much reduced.
Serve with steamed rice and a salad of sliced onions, tomato, lime and coriander
Mom's Braised Chicken Wings
2 lbs. chicken wing segments
3 T. vegetable oil
2 T. chopped garlic
1 c. soy sauce
1/4 c. sake
1/4 c. brown sugar
2 T. chopped garlic
1 T. black pepper
1/2 c. ketchup
1/4 c. sambal oelek
1/4 c. toasted sesame seeds
Rinse 2 lbs. chicken wing segments and pat dry w/ paper towels.
In a large wok or heavy sided pan, on high heat, add 3 T. vegetable oil. When it is very hot add 2 T. chopped garlic and chicken wing segments. Parcook the wings, stirring and turning to ensure even cooking.
While the chicken wings are cooking, in a separate bowl, combine 1 c. soy sauce, 1/4 c. sake, 1/4 c. brown sugar, 2 T. chopped garlic, and 1 T. black pepper. When the wings are about 50% cooked (about 5-10 min), drain out all the juices. Add the braising liquid and continue stir-frying the wings on high heat for another 10 minutes or so or until 80% of the liquid has evaporated.
In a bowl, combine 1/2 c. ketchup and 1/4 c. sambal oelek and add to the pan. Coat the chicken wings well w/ this sauce and continue cooking for 2 minutes to carmelize a bit. Remove from heat and mix in 1/4 c. toasted sesame seeds.
The word "Sambal" is akin to "sauce."
There are many types of sambals, oelek being a popular one sold throughout the United States.
A good asian grocery should carry many other types, as well, which put other ingredients and spices to use. Plus you can make your own pretty easily.
I use sambal really anywhere I want a little added spice. It forms a basic component of my dressing for egg salad, I often add it to soup and stew, it adds great heat to pasta sauce. While looking for a way to perk up some frozen pizza over the weekend I even discovered that sambal oelek goes mighty fine on top of a nice slice of cheese and sausage!
I've used sambal for years, it is a regular addition to my chowmein, and cool noodle salads. I love it with vinegar and soy sauce on potstickers. It is the key to my Indonesian fried rice, and we love it. My kids eat it, and my one time non spicy food eating husband now can't get along without it either, a true convert! It can be found in any market here.
Amongst the MANY hot sauces in my kitchen, sambal is definitely one of the best. Another good hot sauce trick is cochujan, a korean chili pepper paste. It's mixed with rice so it thickens up sauces especially well. The flavor is very rich. I use it in everything from bbq to spaghetti sauce. I know several chefs who also keep it in their kitchen.