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.
Kangkung tumis terasi, also known as kangkung cah terasi, kangkung tumis belacan, or kangkung cah belacan, is one of the most beloved vegetable dish throughout Indonesia (also Malaysia and Singapore). This vegetable dish is very easy to prepare, and I think it is a good and gentle way to introduce the stinky terasi/belacan/shrimp paste to the uninitiated. 😀
What is kangkung?
Kangkung is a very common vegetable grown throughout Southeast, East, and South Asia. Because of this, different nations have differents names for this vegetable. Indonesians and Malaysians call this vegetable kangkung, but in the US, your grocery store most likely labels this either as on choy (蕹菜), water spinach, or Chinese spinach.
Throughout Southeast Asia, it is safe to say that almost everyone has tasted and even growing up eating lots of kangkung tumis terasi. In Indonesia, we also blanched/boiled kangkung and eat them as part of gado-gado, pecel, or turn it into a plecing dish.
What is terasi/belacan?
Terasi/belacan is made from tiny shrimps fermented with salt. It is sold in a block, has the color of dark chocolate, and is actually quite soft (softer than a chocolate bar).
If you have tried fish sauce, then you can imagine terasi/belacan as a super-concentrated form of fish sauce, though to me, the flavor profile of terasi/belacan is more complex.
How do I use terasi/belacan?
If you encounter a recipe calling for terasi/belacan, simply cut a tiny piece from the big block (say 1 teaspoon, 2 teaspoons, e.t.c.), then toast that tiny piece using one of the following methods:
grab with a pair of stainless steel tongs, and toast with an open flame. This only works if you have a gas stove, and is the most traditional way of toasting terasi/belacan.
dry frying in a frying pan
toast in a toaster oven
microwave for 30 seconds
Since I am lazy, needless to say, my favorite method is the microwave option. But do whatever you need to toast terasi/belacan before using it. Also, you may want to open all your kitchen windows to remove the stinky fishy odor from your house. 😉
Once you have opened a new packet of terasi/belacan, you want to store the leftover (which is a lot and should last a while) wrapped with 2-3 layers of parchment papers and then put it in 1-2 ziplock bags and just stashed in the fridge until needed.
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: