Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Sambal Tumis Ikan Bilis (Fried Chilli Paste with Anchovies)

This week I'm at my in-laws and I've been put into kitchen duty. I now work smack in the city and by the time I leave work - traffic! Ah the thief of time. Cooking for a family of 5 who loves traditional Malay home cooked meals can be daunting. Especially when the head chef is 75 years old, with years of experience in cooking and tasting good food. It is a challenge to make meals perfect. Time is also a factor as this household eats early. I need to arrive home by 6:00 pm and to be ready to eat at 7:00 pm.

Malay cooking need not be such a hassle. Some of us feel that it does take more out of your time. In reality, the key to any success in a kitchen is really time management. Factor in preparing key ingredients well before cooking time and everything else will fall into place. If you've done project management at work or organised an event - even if it is as small as a birthday party. Then you know that planning ahead does help.

For this Sambal Tumis Ikan Bilis recipe, please do refer back to my old post on how to make dried chilli paste for this dish.

TIP 1:
Update, for the paste, you can also blend it with oil rather than water. The extra step, blending with oil - helps you fry the chilli to a dark paste faster. With water based blends, it takes more time to get to stage where the oil splits from the chilli.

TIP 2:
Always have a jug of water with you. Pour the water in gradually when you make the sambal. Add the water in small amounts to gauge how wet or dry you prefer your sambal to be. Not to add to much water as you do not want it to be soup, but just enough to have a runny sauce almost like a thick sauce.

Recipe makes about 1/2 litre of a corning ware casserole.
2 cups of dried anchovies (medium to small)
2 large red onions - sliced
3 slivers of garlic - thinly sliced
5 tbsp (heaps) dried chilli paste
1 tbsp Tamarind paste or Worcester Sauce (can work)
Salt and sugar to taste
1/2 cup of oil for frying


  1. Soak the anchovies for about 1 minute and drain the water. This helps take out access salt. Set aside. 
  2. Heat oil in the wok or pot, which ever you have. 
  3. Add to the hot oil the chilli paste. Fry till the colour changes to a darker red - almost maroon and the oil separates from the chilli. 
  4. To this you add your anchovies and large onions. Add as well the tamarind paste and seasoning. 
  5. Add the water gradually till you come to your desired consistency. Too little water makes it dry. If you prefer more sauce, you add on water till desired sauce thickness. As recommended, just enough so you have a bit of sauce. Too much it will become a broth.
  6. Your sour, salt and sugar should have a well balanced and rounded flavour. As much as I do not want to use this word but the souring agent (tamarind or Worcester) adds that kick or "umami" flavour to your dish. 
  7. Eat the dish with rice, noodles, prathha, roti or even baked or boiled potatoes or tapioca. Works well with just everything!

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