Nowadays I rarely cook prawns because I have developed allergic reaction to shellfish and nuts. They are not life threatening, but still, I would rather not deal with them. If I just eat a spoonful and remember to quickly pop some Claritin, I will be fine. That said, my hubby is missing this sambal terasi udang – spicy shrimp sauce prawns very much and has been begging me to prepare it for him. So I hope you guys are going to enjoy it as much as he does. Though I really really wish I can eat the whole thing, I know I need to exercise extreme self restrain or else.
Double shrimp treatment
What is so great about this dish is the double use of shrimps/prawns, which makes this a super shrimpy dish. We have a pound of fresh fairly large prawns (I use the ~30 pieces/pound prawns). Then, the sauce has terasi in it, which is basically a block of fermented shrimp. You should be able to buy them from your Asian market. They are either imported from Malaysia in which case they are called belacan, or from Thailand which to be honest I have no idea what they are called. Either way, use the same amount as the recipe, and please remember to toast first with your frying pan. If you want a super duper simple way, you can just microwave for 1 minute.
Crack open your windows
Terasi is great, it’s like fish sauce but super extreme concentrated. Unfortunately, it does have quite a strong odor. To uninitiated, this can even be offensive. If you are a first timer, be sure to crack open your windows AND if you have hood, turn it on. I promise that despite the crazy smell, the dish is sure to turn out beautiful in the end.
Terasi/belacan/shrimp paste is an important ingredient in Indonesian culinary. We use it to prepare Indonesian most popular chili sauce, sambal terasi, and it is also present in many Indonesian dishes. Today’s recipe for this delicious terong saus terasi (eggplant with spicy shrimp paste sauce) also uses terasi to give it a rich umami flavor.
What is terasi/belacan/shrimp paste?
Terasi is made from tiny shrimps fermented with salt. It is shaped into a block with dark chocolate color. It has a very pungent smell, akin to a highlyl condensed and intense smell of fish sauce.
It can be hard to find Indonesian terasi sold in the United States. I use Malaysian belacan most of the time and it tastes almost exactly like Indonesian terasi. If your market doesn’t have terasi nor belacan, you can also try Thai shrimp paste.
I hope you will be able to find one of these three and use it to prepare this lovely dish.
How to use/toast terasi
Terasi/belacan must be toasted before using it. Cut the amount called for in a recipe, and toast it until the color is pale and becomes crumbly.
The easiest method will be putting the shrimp paste in a microwave-proof bowl, cover the bowl with a microwave-proof plate, and cook for 30 seconds. This is usually enough to toast the terasi properly.
If you don’t own a microwave, you can also pan-fry the terasi in a frying pan without any oil until pale and crumbly. Using an oven toaster works too, or if you have a gas stove, use a pair of tongs to grab the terasi and stick it in the open flame.
Ingredients for terong saus terasi
This recipe needs eggplants, tomatoes, red chilies, shallot, garlic, terasi/belacan/shrimp paste, kaffir lime leaves, scallions, salt, and sugar.
Indonesian eggplants are similar to Chinese eggplants, which are slimmer and lankier than their American cousins. But you don’t have to use Chinese eggplants for this dish. I was using American globe eggplants when I prepared this recipe.
I use dried Thai red chilies since that’s the most convenient and reliable chilies I stock at home. I simply soak the dried chilies in hot water until soft before using it.
You can use fresh red chilies too if you do have them in your kitchen.
The number of chilies is not exact and you can adjust the amount to suit your preferred spiciness level of the final dish.
Preparing eggplant for frying
A successful stir-fried eggplant dish depends more on how you prep the eggplants, and less on the variety of eggplants you decide to use for that dish.
Eggplants, be it Chinese eggplants or American globe eggplants, have so much excess air distributed within their spongy cell networks. This trapped air is the reason why frying eggplants, untreated, or as-is, tends to make eggplants stick and burn when you stir-fry them. So how do we avoid this?
The most fail-proof and easiest method that I have found over the years is by cutting eggplants into wedges, and soak them in a big bowl of salted water. Usually for two medium-size eggplants, soaking them in a mixture of 2 quarts water and 1/3 cup salt for 30 minutes should break down the cell structure and the eggplants will fry beautifully.
Remember to drain the eggplants and pat dry them well with paper towels so they won’t splatter when fried in hot oil.
Cooking the eggplant dish
First, use a food processor or a blender with a spice attachment to grind together red chilies, shallot, garlic, and toasted shrimp paste into a smooth paste.
Next, heat a wok over medium-high heat until hot, then add 4 tablespoons of oil and swirl to coat the wok. Add eggplant wedges into the wok sear until golden brown. Set aside.
Lower the heat to a medium, there should be some oil left in the wok, but if there isn’t, add a little more oil so it comes to about 2 tablespoons. Add the spice paste and kaffir lime leaves and sauté until fragrant, about 2 minutes.
Add tomato, salt, sugar, and water. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer until tomato wilts.
Return fried eggplants into the wok and turn up the heat to medium-high. Once it boils, reduce the heat to a medium and cook until eggplant is soft and tender, and the sauce has reduced.
Turn off the heat. Transfer the dish to a serving plate and garnish with thinly sliced scallions.
Other recipes using terasi
If you love terasi and would like to use it more to prepare other dishes, you can try some of these recipes:
Home / All Recipes / Indonesian / Pempek Adaan & Saus Cuko – Chicken and Shrimp Balls & Spicy Tamarind Sauce
Imagine a bowl of crispy golden brown deep-fried meatballs, cut into bite-size pieces, served with a savory-sweet and spicy tamarind sauce. If you are drooling from that description, then you will be very happy to create pempek at home.
Although fish is commonly the main ingredient in pempek, today I am sharing this recipe for pempek adaan using chicken and shrimp. You will also learn how to prepare saus cuko (spicy tamarind sauce) from scratch to serve with your homemade pempek. I will even give you tips to prepare an almost instant pempek with frozen packets of fish balls.
What is Pempek?
Pempek, Mpek-Mpek, or Empek-Empek, is Indonesian fish cakes considered as the signature dish of the city of Palembang in South Sumatra.
The main ingredients for Pempek fish cakes are fish, especially Spanish mackerel (Indonesian: ikan tenggiri), and tapioca flour. The fish paste can be boiled or fried, but they are always served with saus cuko (spicy tamarind sauce).
The story has it that Pempek is created around the 16th century by an old Chinese immigrant man who lives in the area around the Musi river in the city of Palembang. He uses the bountiful fish in the area and mixes it with tapioca and spices to create fish cakes, and sells them in his cart around the village. Apek is how people address an old Chinese man, and along the way, the dish itself is known as pempek/mpek-mpek/empek-empek.
What is Pempek Adaan?
My best translation for pempek adaan is anything pempek, or pempek without fish. In this recipe, we will use a combination of ground chicken and ground shrimp for the meatballs instead of fish.
What is saus cuko and how to make it?
Saus cuko, kuah cuko, or just cuko, is the spicy sauce to accompany a bowl of pempek. It has a sweet, spicy, and sour note from tamarind, garlic, bird-eye chili, and coconut palm sugar.
For a more deluxe version of saus cuko, you can add a tablespoon of dried tiny shrimps (Indonesian: ebi) and/or a tablespoon of Tianjin preserved vegetables (Chinese: 冬菜- dong cai).
Saus cuko is a very thin sauce, very similar to noodle broth. It is very common to serve pempek with boiled egg noodles, sliced cucumbers, and the spicy tamarind sauce.
To make saus cuko, simply boil water with minced garlic, thinly sliced bird-eye chilies, tamarind, and coconut palm sugar. Turn off the heat once all the sugar melts.
You can strain and serve the sauce immediately. I prefer to let the sauce steep while I prepare pempek to get an even better flavor for the sauce. I strain the sauce once I am ready to serve the pempek.
Step-by-step to prepare pempek adaan mixture
In a mixing bowl, combine ground chicken, ground shrimp, ground shallot, salt, sugar, eggs, and coconut milk into a uniform mixture.
Add tapioca flour and use a spatula to gently fold into the ground chicken and shrimp mixture until uniform.
TIPS: Sometimes, there is no need to add the whole 500 gram of tapioca flour to create the meatball mixture. I start with about 2/3 of the tapioca flour, then only add as much as needed until the mixture reaches a meatball-like mixture consistency.
Chill this mixture in the fridge while we heat a pot of oil for deep-frying. If you don’t wish to fry the meatballs on the same day, you can wrap the bowl with a plastic wrap and just rest it in the fridge overnight.
Optionally, you can shape and boil the meatball mixture in a pot of water at this point. You can freeze boiled meatballs in a freezer-safe ziplock bag for up to 3 months. When you want to enjoy some pempek, fry the frozen meatballs in hot oil without thawing.
Frying pempek mixture into fried meatballs
Heat a pot of oil over medium heat until the oil is hot. Remove meatball mixture from the fridge, drop tablespoonfuls of meatball mixture gently into the hot oil and fry until golden brown.
Here are my tips for frying pempek:
1. Know when the oil is hot
If you have a thermometer, wait until the oil reaches 170 Celsius (340 Fahrenheit) before frying the meatballs.
If you don’t have a thermometer, try dropping a tiny meatball mixture into the oil. The oil is ready when the mixture floats to the surface instead of sinks to the bottom of the pot.
2. Use a cookie scoop
If you use a medium-size cookie scoop, you can use the scoop release trigger to drop the meatball mixture easily into the hot oil.
3. Fry in batches
Try to maintain the oil temperature during frying, don’t crowd the pot, and fry the meatballs in batches if necessary. For reference, fry seven meatballs per batch when using an 8-inch pot with three inches of oil.
4. Drain over a wire rack
Remove fried meatballs from the hot oil with a slotted spoon or a strainer ladle. Place them on a stainless steel strainer over a mixing bowl to drain off excess oil so they will remain crispy.
How to serve pempek
Cut fried meatballs into halves or quarters and place them in individual serving bowls. At its simplest, serve the fried meatballs with the spicy tamarind sauce. Only ladle the sauce over the fried meatballs right before serving so the meatballs remain crispy.
For a complete and more filling meal, try boiling some egg noodles, and cut a cucumber into thin slices. Serve the bowl of pempek with egg noodles and cucumber slices.
I know that fresh egg noodles can be a luxury item in the US. I have also tried serving pempek with vermicelli, rice noodles, and even instant ramen noodles. They all work great and these are all easier options than finding egg noodles.
The case of an instant pempek
You can make an almost instant pempek if your grocery store or Asian market sells frozen packets of fish cakes or fish balls.
If the fish cakes/fish balls are the boiled variety, boil them following the packet instruction, then fry in hot oil, or even a simple pan-frying to get a golden brown crispy surface. It may be possible to fry them without boiling, but please confirm with the packaging instruction.
If you are lucky enough to find fried fish cakes/fried fish balls, then you can simply cook them following the packet instruction.
Serve these fried fish cakes or fish balls with the spicy tamarind sauce and you get an almost instant pempek.