Celebrity chef Sherson Lian has tips for you.
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Plenty of people are intimidated by cooking, especially if they have never cooked before. Sure, maybe instant noodles or spaghetti might be simple enough to whip up, but Malaysians need good ‘ol Malaysian food to keep ourselves happy.
But Malaysian food, such as sambal belacan, is notoriously labourous and difficult, and you have no real cooking experience… is it possible?
Actually, the answer is yes. If someone else has already done all the hard parts of cooking for you.
We spoke to celebrity chef Sherson Lian, who gave us some tips and tricks on how to make an extremely simple Malaysia’s favourite ikan sambal belacan with almost none of the labour that comes with it.
3-Ingredient Ikan Sambal Belacan
- Ikan kembung (leatherjacket fish, readily available already cleaned, gutted, and descaled at grocery stores or at the fishmonger’s)
- Pre-made sambal belacan paste
- Banana leaves (optional)
1) Pat dry the fish. Cut two pockets on both sides along the fish’s spine. (Chef’s note: If you are having trouble with slicing through the flesh, try sharpening your knife. A dull knife can easily cause injuries to yourself.)
2) Give the fish a generous tumeric rub to get rid of its fishy smell, including the insides of the pockets. Then, season it with a little salt.
3) Scoop your sambal belacan paste into the pockets. Be generous with it, but most importantly, use a new clean and dry spoon in between the scoops as you do not want to contaminate the sambal paste.
4) Heat up a pan to medium-high heat. If you have banana leaves, place it in the pan.
5) Drizzle some oil over the fish. Then, place the fish in the pan.
6) Flip the fish and ensure both sides are cooked. (Chef’s note: Ikan kembung has thick skin, so the usual way to check if it’s cooked by poking a fork into the meat won’t work. Instead, check the eyes- they should turn completely white. However, you can leave it to cook a little longer if you’re not sure as this fish is very forgiving to being overcooked.)
7) Serve with rice and enjoy.
Sherson notes that sambal belacan is one of those sides that goes well with everything and every family has their own secret recipe. Still, it’s a great beginner paste, and you can easily modify the recipe or use different kinds of protein to pair with the sambal belacan.
The one used here is from Sherson’s line of Rencah pastes and condiments and is also used in his restaurants. The chili seeds are blended directly into the paste for a smoother taste and he adds thinly sliced calamansi skin for an extra hint of texture and fragrance.
But this recipe will work with any pre-prepared sambal belacan paste, you won’t need to spend 4 hours making it from scratch.
Anne is an advocate of sustainable living and the circular economy, and has managed to mum-nag the team into using reusable containers to tapau food. She is also a proud parent of 4 cats and 1 rabbit.