Javanese Sambal

4 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 teaspoon belacan, pressed into a disk 1/4 inch thick
5 shallots
3 cloves garlic
12 fresh red chilies, such as red Holland, Fresno, or cayenne, stemmed and coarsely chopped
1 teaspoon palm sugar, thinly sliced
1/2 teaspoon salt


Heat the oil wok over medium heat. Add the disk of belacan and brown it on both sides, turning just once so as not to break up the disk more than necessary. Using a sloted spoon, remove the disk from the oil and allow it to cool.

Place the belacan, shallots, garlic, chiles, palm sugar, and salt in a small food processor. Pulse until you have a paste with a slightly chunky consistency.

Over medium heat, reheat the oil. Place the paste into the oil and saute. Lower the heat to low, stirring occasionally. Continue to saute for 8 to 10 minutes, until the oil separates from the paste and the paste itself is a few shades darker. Salt to taste.

Transfer the paste to a small bowl and allow to cool completely before using. Leave it in the bowl for eaters to spoon at their own discretion, or used in a stir-fried dish. Leftover sambal may be stored in an container for up to a week in the refrigerator.