Spicy, tangy and full of flavor, this Malaysian Sambal recipe is an absolute must try if you have been looking for something to add a kick of flavor to your meals.
This versatile condiment can jazz up your simple dishes, and is incredibly easy to make too.
You’ll find lots of store bought versions too, but there isn’t anything quite like homemade sambal, if I’m being honest.
I like to think of myself as a condiment queen, now that I’ve tried my hands at so many different spice mixes and condiments from around the world.
My Mexican Tajin spice mix, Italian basil gremolata, South African peri peri seasoning and Egyptian Dukkah have all been big hits, but I really wanted to try something inspired by the classic Sambal Oelek.
And that’s when I thought of this recipe.
What's So Great About the Recipe?
My favorite part about this recipe is that I can actually make this in a batch and store it for weeks, if not months, and use it whenever needed.
With delightful southeast Asian flavors and lots of balanced spiciness, this sauce has become one of my top favorites.
If you love the classic Sambal Olek, Sriracha or any hot sauces in general, you’ll love this dried shrimp Sambal.
Ingredients For the Malaysian Sambal Recipe
You’ll need just a few simple ingredients to put the dried shrimp Sambal together.
Dried shrimp: Dried shrimp makes up the base of the sambal. Since these are already pretty salty, you won’t even need to add any additional salt into the mix.
Aromatics: You’ll also need some aromatics to form the base of the sambal. Shallots, garlic, ginger (or galangal) and some fresh turmeric.
Dried chili: Lots of these of course- use as much your taste buds can tolerate. You can also choose to use fresh chili if you want to.
Tamarind: Deseeded tamarind, when soaked in water and smashed using your fingers, can create a nice tamarind pulp, which is the essence of a good sambal.
Kaffir lime: Kaffir lime leaves lend a nice bit of tanginess and bitterness to the sambal and is a staple in Thai cuisine.
Sugar: I also used a bit of sugar to balance out the other flavors.
Oil: You’ll need a bit of oil to fry the spice paste in. Feel free to use any kind of oil.
See recipe card for quantities.
How to Make Malaysian Sambal Sauce
Once you have all the ingredients ready, here’s what you need to do next to put the Sambal together.
Clean the dried shrimp. Make sure you remove the shell and dirt. Soak it in warm water for about 30 minutes. Then, use a food processor or blender to blend it together with the rest of the ingredients, except the oil.
In a pan, add the oil and stir-fry the paste over medium heat until it is fragrant, stirring often. Keep cooking it until the mixture turns super dry. This can take a while.
Allow this to cool down completely, transfer to an airtight container or glass jar and store in the refrigerator.
Substitutions & Variations
- Don’t have the kaffir lime leaves that the recipe calls for? Substitute with some lemongrass instead.
- Garlic and shallots form the body of the sambal. If you don’t have shallots, you can use onions instead.
- Don’t have the tamarind peel that the recipe calls for? You can substitute with store bought tamarind paste or tamarind juice instead. The idea is to use tamarind extract to bring in a bit of sourness to the sambal. Lime juice can also work wonderfully as a substitute.
Remember that the mixture should come to a rolling boil- it should keep boiling even when you're stirring it. This will ensure that the peppers cook well, and the jelly reaches the right consistency.
How to Store Leftover Sambal
Your batch of dried shrimp sambal can be refrigerated for up to 3 weeks when stored correctly in a clean, airtight container or glass jar.
If you want it to last longer, consider freezing it in a freezer safe container.
Tips & Tricks to Nail the Recipe
- I used dry red chilies, but you could also use fresh red chilies, specifically bird’s eye chillies which make for an excellent addition to the sambal.
- To bring in some bold flavors to the sambal, you can add some mushroom or shrimp stock powder into it towards the end.
- Another great way to enhance the flavor of the shrimp sambal is to use a combination of dried and fresh chillies into the mix. The dried chillies can be rehydrated by soaking them in some hot water for a few minutes and then using them.
- Remember to soak the dried chilies for a few minutes in warm water. This makes them easier to blend.
- If you don’t have these, you can just use some chili paste made using fresh chillies.
- You can use a blender or food processor to blend all the ingredients into a smooth paste. If you prefer a chunky texture, you can use a mortar and pestle instead.
- I added sugar into the mix to tone down and balance the hot and spicy flavor of the sambal. You could also choose to use palm sugar instead.
- To lend the sambal an extra bit of earthiness and umami flavor, you can also add some Belacan - a fermented shrimp paste into it and make some Sambal Belacan.
- Fish sauce also makes a stunning addition to this sambal.
How to Use the Dried Shrimp Sambal
This dried shrimp sambal can be used in a lot of different ways to complement and enhance the flavors of different foods- it is pretty versatile that way.
It is typically served with some Nasi Lemak and is a popular condiment in Malaysia cuisine, in some parts of Singapore and many Asian recipes too.
When using it, remember that a little goes a long way, and just a small bit of it is enough to lend your foods that spicy kick you’re looking for.
Since sambal is basically a mix of chillies and aromatics, you can enjoy it with pretty much any of your Malaysian food experiments.
I love teaming it up with some fried rice or noodle dish, or any Indonesia or Malay dish like Mee goreng or Nasi goreng.
It can also work wonderfully as a rub or marinade for any of your meats, or as a topping for your fried eggs or sandwiches.
You can use fresh shrimp, but remember that you won’t be able to store the sambal for as long as you would be able to store the one made with dried shrimp.
While this dried shrimp sambal needs a very simple, classic set of ingredients, you can bring in some adjustments and add in some other ingredients and add-ons to enhance the flavor and texture.
Packaged, commercially available Sambal is usually pretty spicy, but since you're making this at home, you can adjust the spice to your liking!
No! Sambal is a spicy paste that usually has shrimp added in. Sriracha is a kind of hot sauce.
You can use a mix of different kinds of chillies to make the Sambal. Thai red chillies are spicy, and a great choice. You can team them up with serrano peppers, cayenne peppers and even red jalapeno peppers.
Looking for other recipes like this? Try these:
- 250 g dried shrimp soaked and rinsed
- 150 g shallots peeled
- 40 g garlic peeled
- 10 -12 dried chilli remove seed and rinsed
- 1 ½ tamarind peel
- 2 tablespoon sugar
- 2 tablespoon oil
- 1 ginger
- 1 turmeric
- 4 kaffir lime leaves chopped
- Clean the dried shrimp. Make sure you remove the shell and dirt. Soak it in warm water for about 30 minutes. Then, use a food processor or blender to blend it together with the rest of the ingredients, except the oil.
- In a pan, add the oil and stir-fry the paste over medium heat until it is fragrant, stirring often. Keep cooking it until the mixture turns super dry. This can take a while.
- Allow this to cool down completely, transfer to an airtight container or glass jar and store in the refrigerator.
- Cook to a minimum temperature of 165 °F (74 °C)
- Don't leave food sitting out at room temperature for extended periods
- Never leave cooking food unattended
- Use oils with high smoking point to avoid harmful compounds
- Always have good ventilation when using a gas stove