Belacan or shrimp paste is an essential ingredient in Malaysian cuisine. This pungent but delicious seafood produce is used in many popular traditional food in Malaysia such as nasi lemak and asam laksa.
Belacan is raw and need to be cooked. At supermarket, you can also find those that are pre-toasted in sliced and powdered form.
You can learn more about the different type of shrimp paste, health benefits, storage, etc in another post that I have written (Read: Belacan Shrimp Paste).
In this post, we’re going to talk about how to cook shrimp paste.
How to toast belacan
Belacan must be cooked before eating; dry toast it until it is crumbly.
Slice belacan into small pieces of about 0.5 cm thick. The thinner it is, the faster it cooks.
Dry toast it on medium fire until the belacan is dry.You can see that it is cracked and no longer sticky. It takes about 15 minutes. In between, flip the slices.
3. DISH OUT & LET IT COOL
Place toasted belacan on a large plate. Let it cool before storing.
When do I know it’s ready?
It’s ready when its dry, hard, and crumbled easily.
Turning belacan slices into powder
At this stage, belacan is cooked, dry, and easily crumbled. If you like, you can crush it with a spatula to turn it into smaller pieces.
This is why my Mom likes to use a wok, its easier to crush the belacan into smaller pieces. However, because of the small surface area, we can only toast about 1 block at a time.
Tips when toasting belacan
1. Cook in somewhere with good ventilation Belacan has an extremely strong smell in itself. When cooked, it emits an even more pungent smell that Europeans had mistaken for a corpse! (Read: French Neighbour Mistake Grilled Belacan To Be Rotten Corpse). So do make sure the kitchen has good ventilation. As I have a garden and a portable stove, I toast belacan in my garden.
2. Cover belacan to protect it from flies Make sure you prepare a food cover or a container with lid to keep the belacan. When toasting belacan, it will attract a lot of flies.
3. Use a flat pan. My Mom traditionally use a wok. But I prefer using a flat pan has more surface area; it allows me to place all slices from 1.5 blocks of belacan.
3. Don’t wear your best clothing You will smell of belacan after cooking. I normally schedule to do it before my bath time.
4. Crush toasted belacan into smaller pieces. I suggest doing this. It’s easy to measure with spoons and it dissolve quickly when cooking.
Toasting belacan in the oven?
I have tried and it makes my oven smell of belacan for days! But if you live in an apartment without good ventilation, perhaps it’s a better way to keep the smell from bothering your neighbour.
In that case, using an oven make sense. To lessen lingering smell of belacan in your oven, perhaps wrapping the sliced belacan in aluminium foil before putting it in the oven helps.
I like to put crumbled, cooked belacan in an empty glass container. In my cooking class, this is what I use for cooking things like rojak sauce and nasi lemak.