Sambal Terasi is a thick, fiery chili sauce recipe from Indonesia made with dried shrimp paste and bird's eye chilies, served with fried foods or as a dipping sauce. Not for the faint of heart!
Sambal Terasi Recipe
The combination of sauces and chili peppers in this recipe dates back to ancient times. It’s hard to find a cuisine where sauces are not prized for their ability to bring flavors to any dish at all.
In southeast Asia, traditional foods pack a punch of different types of flavors- all in one dish. In Asian cuisine as a whole, finding spicy sauces made up of many chilies is not rare. If you are a fan of Asian food and its inherent spiciness, you’ll fall in love with the Indonesian Sambal Terasi sauce.
It is such a pungent and fiery version of sambal that perfectly embodies Indonesian cuisine.
What is Sambal Terasi?
Sambal terasi is a fiery Indonesian chili sauce made with dried shrimp paste, bird's eye chilies, garlic, sugar, salt and citrus. It is often served with fried foods or as a dipping sauce.
It is not for the faint of heart and is your go-to sauce if you are a huge fan of spicy food. The name ‘Sambal’ goes for all Indonesian sauces.
This particular sauce has a paste-like texture and the main ingredients are nothing other than a variety of chilies. It’s one of the spiciest sauces to exist in Indonesia and Asian food.
There can be a few variations due to using different chilies and vegetables. The Indonesian culture and cuisine have high regard for severely spicy and hot sauces.
Since there are people of different ethnic backgrounds in Indonesia, you’ll find a variety of sauces, including variations for the Sambal Terasi. And for the food, the Sambal Terasi is used along with a variety of different cuisines, ranging from Indian to Chinese to Japanese food.
What does Sambal Terasi Taste Like?
Sambal terasi mainly has an umami taste due to the presence of fish or shrimp. It’s no wonder that so many chilies in Sambal Terasi are bound to leave your taste buds on fire.
The combination of various vegetables produces a mix of neutral tastes. It also balances the heavy salty flavor produced by shrimp.
The punch of umami flavor makes it perfect to be used while cooking dishes in which you want a ‘fishy’ taste. But that’s not all, as you can use this spicy sauce as a dipping to go with any dish.
Sambal Terasi Ingredients
- Oil - Cooking oil for the shrimp paste. A simple vegetable oil is good.
- Dried Shrimp Paste (Terasi) - aka Terasi, or Belacan shrimp paste is commonly used.
- Sugar - Use shaved palm sugar or dark brown sugar, though white sugar will work as well.
- Bird's Eye Chilies - Other peppers can be substituted.
- Citrus - Use either lime juice or lemon juice, though I've seen lime leaves used as well.
How to Make Sambal Terasi - the Recipe Method
Cook the dried shrimp paste. Heat the oil in a small pan to medium heat and add the dried shrimp paste. Cook the paste for 45 seconds to 1 minute, stir frying and mashing it down completely, until it becomes vary fragrant. Cool and set aside.
Grind or process the ingredients. Add the cooked shrimp paste to a pestle and mortar or a small food processor, along with the garlic, salt, sugar and bird's eye peppers. Grind or process until smooth.
Stir in the citrus. Stir in the lime juice or lemon juice and use immediately.
Recipe Tips & Notes
- Other Ingredients. Tomatoes are sometimes used to make sambal terasi for their sweet, slightly tangy flavor. Garlic is optional, though I see it in most recipes. Shallot is a nice addition, and the combination of chilies, shallot and garlic is wonderful, or even onions, garlic, tomato. You can use different sugars, and use either lime juice or lemon juice, to your preference, or lime leaves for a different version.
- Heat Factor. HOT. You'll get some very nice heat from the bird's eye peppers. You can use other peppers to achieve a hotter or milder version of this recipe. Use peppers to your heat preference.
Where to Buy Sambal Terasi?
You can sometimes find ready-made Sambal Terasi from grocery stores. It comes in varying quantities, in both packets and jars, although it may not be available in all countries.
In Indonesia, you can even purchase it in the raw state from traditional stores instead of supermarkets. Remember that it’s easy to make your own Sambal Terasi if you’re having trouble finding it.
You can even cook the Sambal Terasi that you buy, but it’s best when it is used as a dipping sauce with your favorite dishes.
- Buy Sambal Terasi from Amazon (affiliate link, my friends!)
What is a Good Substitute for Sambal Terasi?
There are some countries in the world where Sambal Terasi isn’t readily available, the UK for example. A very good method to substitute Sambal Terasi is to buy long red chilies, particularly bird's eye chilies, grind them into a paste with other ingredients such as lime juice, palm sugar, optional tomatoes, and garlic.
You can add all sorts of vegetables to your Sambal Terasi, but it’s best to stick to the traditional ingredients mentioned before. Don’t forget to add the shrimp, they make up the core umami taste of Sambal Terasi!
Sambal terasi is best when used the same day it is made.
Try Some of My Other Popular Recipes
- Sambal Matah
- Sambal Oelek
- Homemade Sriracha
- Homemade Harissa
- How to Make Chili Paste
- Sweet Chili-Garlic Hot Sauce
- Red Curry Paste
- Rujak – Indonesian Fruit Salad
- Nasi Goreng – Indonesian Fried Rice
- Mie Goreng - Indonesian Stir Fry Noodles)
Got any questions? Ask away! I’m happy to help. If you enjoy this recipe, I hope you’ll leave a comment with some STARS. Also, please share it on social media. Don’t forget to tag us at #ChiliPepperMadness. I’ll be sure to share! Thanks! — Mike H.
Sambal Terasi Recipe (Indonesian Chili Sauce with Shrimp Paste)
- 1/2 tablespoon vegetable oil
- 1 tablespoon dried shrimp paste Terasi, or Belacan
- 6 cloves garlic
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon sugar use shaved palm sugar or brown sugar, though white sugar will work as well
- 12 bird's eye chilies stems removed
- 1 tablespoon fresh squeezed lime juice or use lemon juice
- Heat the oil in a small pan to medium heat and add the dried shrimp paste. Cook the paste for 45 seconds to 1 minute, mashing it down completely, until it becomes vary fragrant. Cool and set aside.
- Add the cooked shrimp paste to a mortar or a small food processor, along with the garlic, salt, sugar and bird's eye peppers. Grind or process until smooth.
- Stir in the lime juice or lemon juice and use immediately.