Sunday 21 April 2013

Sambal Tumis Udang (Malaysian Stir-Fried Shrimp with Spicy Gravy)

This classic accompaniment to nasi lemak basically comprises half a batch of my sambal recipe that I blogged about three years ago, stir-fried (or "tumis" in Malay) with some onions and shell-on shrimp. Thank you to my ever-reliable foodie friend Marisa for helping me perfect this!

Some quick tips before you start:

1) I personally recommend making double or triple batches of sambal in advance to store in the fridge for future use, so you don't have to pull out your food processor every time. You'll thank yourself when your next Malaysian craving hits!:)

2) Stick to frozen shrimp, unless you live near the coast or can see them swimming in the aquarium just before you buy it. The "fresh" stuff sold in cities is often just defrosted previously frozen shrimp, which might already have been sitting around for days. 

3) Use shrimp with at least part of the shell on if possible, as it imparts a richer flavour. I like to use frozen, deveined, easy-peel headless medium shrimp that I can get extremely cheap in Chinatown Manhattan for $10.99/2 lb bag. You can of course use whole ones with the head still attached, or larger tiger prawns instead of shrimp, or if you really must then fully shelled ones are okay too. Whatever the case, if they are not deveined make sure to do it yourself by slicing across the top and cleaning out the black stuff.

4) Make sure to stick to raw shrimp, no matter what kind you choose. Under NO circumstances should you substitute with the pink ready-to-eat cooked stuff, as it will absorb none of the beautiful spices and go completely rubbery.

With that, happy tumis-ing!

Sambal Tumis Udang (Malaysian Stir-Fried Shrimp with Spicy Gravy)
Serves 4-6

Defrost 1 lb of frozen shrimp (which was about 35 pieces in my bag) by running under cold tap water for a few minutes. Make sure it is fully defrosted before cooking. Set aside.
  • Prepare the sambal paste
Deseed 50g dried chillies by tearing them in half and shaking the seeds out. Do not skip this step, or you'll burn your tastebuds right off!

Boil the chillies for about 30 mins to further reduce the heat. Drain off the liquid and rinse in cold tap water to cool. Drain.

Chuck in a small spice mill, blender or food processor and grind to a thick paste (or pound with a mortar and pestle if you're a purist): 
The boiled chillies above
2 medium cooking onions, cut into chunks
10 cloves of garlic
1/2 cube ikan bilis stock (or grind whole dried anchovies to a powder)
1/2 tsp belacan (dried shrimp paste)

Ikan bilis stock cubes- I get my supply from Malaysia, not sure where to get it in NYC I'm afraid
  • To cook
Heat some oil in a shallow frying pan over medium heat. 

Slice up 1 medium onion to half-rings, and stir-fry for a few mins until softened and a bit charred.

Add the prepared paste and tumis until fragrant. 

Stir in 2 tbsp dark brown sugar or gula melaka (coconut palm sugar), and about 2 tbsp asam jawa (tamarind juice)*. 

*If you've never used tamarind juice, it's simple- just soak a chunk of tamarind pulp in hot water for 5 mins, stir to loosen, then press through a sieve. Discard the seeds.

Throw in the defrosted shrimp and a bit of water. Stir fry for about 5-10 mins until the shrimp turns pink.

Dish up and serve immediately with nasi lemak or plain rice. Enjoy!

With nasi lemak


  1. enak banget nih sambalnya... jadi pengin buat

  2. Hi. What does 1/2 cube ikan bilis stock equal if I am using dried anchovies I ground myself?