Friday, December 30, 2011

New Year's Eve And Sambal Ikan Bilis

We're not doing much for New Year's eve. It's been a very busy couple months. We're all overstressed, overtired, and some of us are overcommitted. We're staying in, and watching movies in The Cinezone.

I picked up See No Evil, Hear No Evil  - the classic Wilder/Pryor comedy in which Richard Pryor is blind, Gene Wilder is deaf, and both of them are suspects in a murder case.  Also got Ghost Town, with Ricky Gervais. And Cowboys Versus Aliens, with Harrison Ford and Daniel Craig. That should be enough to keep Natalie happy.

Extending the theme, though. I got Aliens Versus Ninjas for me and the boys, and Repo Men (the Jude Law/Forrest Whittaker version) as well. We are well set up, I think. There's beer, ginger beer, cider, champagne, and tonnes of popcorn. Yay!

Excitingly, when I asked Nat what she'd like for dinner, she plumped for Nasi Lemak. This is an old Malay favourite of mine, usually served at breakfast. The best bit is the dreaded Sambal Ikan Bilis, served in spoon-sized portions along with lashings of coconut rice, peanuts, red onions, boiled eggs, and veggies.

I won't try to describe Sambal Ikan Bilis. Instead, I'll give you the blow-by-blow cooking process.

1: Obtain ingredients - two packets of dried anchovies; one large handful of dried chillies; tablespoon minced garlic, tablespoon minced ginger, three tablespoons tamarind paste, two tablespoons sweet soy sauce, oil for cooking, star anise bud, two medium brown onions, dollop of shrimp paste (belacan).

Consider the flavour mix: salty, pungent dried fish. Spine-tinglingly sour tamarind paste. Caramel-sweet/salty kecap manis (sweet soy.) Ginger, garlic, onion.... and brutally powerful dried chillies.

Drink some beer while considering this.

Put oil in the wok along with ginger, garlic, and star anise. Fry the spices until the smell rises. Now throw in your anchovies, and stir them until they turn light-brown and crispy. Remove, and drain.

Coarsely chop the chillies. Put them in the oil, and fry until the scent rises. Choke. Turn on the range hood. Add the shrimp paste. Gag. Have another beer. Open several windows.

Add the onion, the tamarind paste and the sweet soy. Ask the children to open the doors. Cough. Drink more beer. Stir the spice paste. Weep. Blow nose.

Natalie comes down the stairs, asks what's going on. Gets a deep breath. Bursts into a fit of coughing and weeping, flees outside. Orders children -- all of whom are now coughing, sneezing and gagging  -- outdoors with her.

Stir paste. Drink beer. Weep. Sneeze. Cough. Stir and cook until the spice paste is thick and dark and viscous. Throw the crispy anchovies back into the mixture and stir until they're coated.

Turn off the burner. Grab another beer, run outside and collapse on the deck sucking in lungfuls of clean air. Listen to Natalie complain about being unable to go back inside for several minutes...

... return indoors. Eat a spoonful of wonderful, sour-sweet-salty-SUPERCHILLISPICY crunchy dried fish and onions and spice paste. Grab beer. Drink beer. Eat coconut rice. Weep. Blow nose. Eat more Sambal Ikan Bilis, despite the pain. Howl like a demented hippopotamus.


Happy new year to you all.


  1. Sounds fabulous.

    I've just constructed a kangaroo meat chilli con carne. Not sure what to call it really. There's a bit of multi-culture for you.

    Have a great new year.

  2. Sounds fantastic, indeed! I know all too well that cough that comes from pre-cooking chillis and garlic. :)
    And I was just wondering what to do with my remaining chilli crop (about a lunch box full so far).

    You wouldn't have any good chilli sauce recipes would you Dirk?
    Or tips on making your own dried chillis?
    I think I may end up just drying them.

  3. I love visiting here. I swear, mate, if I didn't know better I would believe that you are making all of this up to make other people feel bad for the poor choices they've made.


    Hear no Evil - meh.
    Ghost Town - saw it three times.
    Cowboys v. Aliens - an homage to classic American westerns with aliens; what's not to like?
    Aliens v. Ninjas - never heard of it, but will look for it now.
    Repo Men - perhaps one of the most gleefully violent films I've ever seen. Won't see it again.

    Sambal Ikan Bilis: I have a small respirator I bought at the hardware store used for spray painting. It is light weight and transforms the kind of cooking you described into a humiliating but pain-free experience.

  4. Timmo - drying chillis is easy if you have a dehydrator. Since you're asking, you don't have one. So, failing that - spread your chillies on a shallow baking tray. Set your oven to very low heat. (Less than 100C is what you want.) Place the chillies in the oven, and prop the door of the oven open about two cm or so. Fan-forced oven is ideal.

    Shuffle your chillies around every couple of hours until they're dry. Do NOT let the heat get too great, or your chillies will start to cook, and 'sweat' all that chili oil.

  5. Paul: Aliens V Ninja - truly, really, don't do it to yourself. I wish I had those brain cells back. Hear/See No Evil had its moments, and kept the boys entertained. (Once we explained Richard Pryor to them, anyway.) Saving Ghost Town for another time, 'cos we shut down at about 0120...

    The respirator sounds like good advice. But it won't help the rest of the family. And I can't see Natalie agreeing to wear one...

    And Cat D: Happy new year to your own good self as well! Kangaroo chili con carne sounds perfectly acceptable to me.