Terasi,or shrimp paste as it is known to us westerners, is an ingredient, which will ultimately divide opinion of all those who read this. It is made by taking the shells of shrimps, and putting them through a fermentation process. The result, is a paste, or sometimes sauce, which is quite essential to a variety of Indonesian dishes.
The role shrimp paste plays in Indonesian cuisine, is actually very subtle, yet surprisingly essential. It is to Indonesia, what fish sauce is to Thai, and Vietnamese cooking, and the anchovi to the French. It brings seasoning, and that precious hint of unami to your cooking.
The paste is actually prevalent across South East Asia, with almost every country, and often every village, city or town, within it, having their own varieties. Contrary to popular belief – I’m looking at you Wikipedia – it is not used in most dishes, but when it is, it simply can’t be substituted, yes anchovies and fish sauce do the same job, but the flavour is very different.
Note: Indonesia never uses fish sauce – I repeat – never uses fish sauce. Just because Thai and Vietnamese cuisine does, doesn’t mean all South East Asian countries do.
The paste, as previously stated, is essential to a number of dishes. It is most often used in fish or vegetable based dishes and quite often dips too. One condiment, to which it is beyond essential, is sambal terasi. A favourite accompaniment to many Indonesian dishes.
When using terasi, there are a few things to be aware off. First of all, it stinks. It beyond stinks. It is wretched. It will make you vomit. Second, you have to roast it gently before use. This will make it smell worse, and worse again, it will make your whole house stink – windows wide open people. Third, start off with small amounts. Properly used it takes dishes to an entirely new level; over used and it will ruin them completely. Finally, it is worth it. To really appreciate it’s subtle flavour, you need to make sambal terasi; both with and without the terasi. Once you’ve tasted the difference, you’ll learn to accept the ingredient. Though you’ll never love it’s smell.
With this in mind, I’ll be exploring the vast world of sambal this weekend, and finishing with an authentic sambal terasi recipe.