Belacan, a Malay variety of shrimp paste

Belacan, a Malay variety of shrimp paste

Belacan or pronounced as belachan (which was the old spelling), actually means dried prawn paste. It is made from fermented ground shrimp, sun dried and then cut into fist-sized rectangular blocks. It is not designed, nor customarily used for immediate consumption and has to be fully cooked prior to consumption since it is raw.

The degree of saltiness varies with different brands of belacan, so it is prudent to mix the belacan in, little by little, tasting as you go along.

The procedure for getting roasted belacan involves cutting belacans into thin slices. Preheat oven to 230°C. Place the belacan slices slightly apart from each other on a roasting pan. Roast for about two minutes or until the edges start to brown. Let it cool down and blend coarsely or fine as per recipe.

Roasted belacan is a standard spicy Malaysian condiment that goes with just about everything. Roasted belacan is like a drug to spice-crazed Malaysians who need to get their tongues burnt as they savour their main courses and starters. The typical ingredients are cayenne pepper, belacan, lime juice and salt. The paste vary in appearance from pale liquid sauces to solid chocolate-coloured blocks.

How to Select

  • Roasted belacan varies between different Asian cultures and can vary in smell, texture and saltiness. Therefore, the correct belacan paste should be chosen for the food being prepared. Check the expiry date of belacan before buying.

Culinary Uses

  • Roasted belacan is an essential ingredient in many South East Asian curries and sauces
  • It is often an ingredient in dipping sauce for fish or vegetables.
  • Belacan is used as an ingredient in many dishes, or eaten on its own with rice.
  • A common preparation is Sambal Belacan, made by mixing toasted belacan with chilli peppers, minced garlic, shallot paste and sugar and then fried

How to store

  • Excess roasted belacan should be kept frozen in a container. You may keep it in a freezer for up to 3 months. When you need some, just use a metal spoon and scrape off as much as you need from the container, and put the rest back into the freezer.

Availability of belacan

  • Look for this in Asian markets.

Substitutes for belacan

  • Anchovy paste (not as pungent)
  • Anchovy fillets mixed with a bit of water

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