Fun with Food I: Recreating the Huy Fong Sambal Badjak

Ingredients for sambal badjak
All the ingredients for the sambal except the soy sauce.

Hello everyone!  I thought I’d take a departure this week from my fun experiments to show a food (and yet fun) experiment – my attempt to reproduce Huy Fong Food’s famous Sambal Badjak, a delicious Indonesian condiment.  Huy Fong, makers of the famous Sriracha sauce, stopped making their Sambal Badjak and Sate sauces years ago, and I was crushed.  I loved that stuff, and there is simply no substitute. I went to their site, sent them begging emails, and prowled the web for a recipe. I’ve subsequently tried a few, but they didn’t give me the magic flavor and texture of the original.

This is my latest attempt. I emailed another wistful guy who was also looking for a recipe, but he hadn’t found one either – though he did remind me of the smokey flavor that set the Huy Fong sambal apart. So I modified my recipe by adding smoked chiles (chipotles).

Sambal Badjak Recipe

The Ransom Version of the Huy Fong Food’s Original, v. 1.0

Ingredients:

  • 20 red jalapeños, diced
  • 9 dried chipotle chiles, stemmed and crushed
  • 10 dried chiles de arbol, stemmed and torn apart
  • 3 medium yellow onions, diced
  • 1 large shallot, diced
  • 12 large cloves garlic, diced fine
  • ~20 salted, roasted cashews
  • 2 tbsp palm sugar
  • 2 tbsp tamarind concentrate
  • 1 13.5 oz can coconut milk
  • 1 tbsp fish sauce
  • 2 tsp Thai ground (dry) galangal
  • 2 tsp dried, shredded lemon grass
  • 2 tbsp light soy sauce
  • 3/4 cup peanut oil

Cooking

Heat 1/4 cup of the peanut oil in a large Dutch oven over medium high heat until almost smoking, then add the diced veg (jalapeños, onions, garlic, and shallot).  Sweat for 10 minutes.

Vegetables sweated
After cooking the jalapeños, onions, shallots, and garlic for 10 minutes.

Cover the crushed chipotle and chile de arbol with boiling water and let rehydrate for about 10 minutes. Blend together with the cashews and additional water as needed to a thick paste.  Add to the sweated veg.

Chile and cashew paste
The paste made by blending the rehydrated chipotle and chile de arbol chiles and the cashews.
Sambal after adding chile paste
Sambal 10 minutes after adding the chile paste.

Cook for an additional ten minutes after reducing the heat to medium. Add another 1/4 cup of peanut oil, and cook for a few minutes longer.  Add the remaining ingredients except the last of the peanut oil.

Sambal after all ingredients added
The sambal after addition of the coconut milk and seasonings.

Continue cooking, making sure to stir regularly.  Scrape the solids off the bottom of the Dutch oven to prevent burning (they do carmelize, but don’t let it burn – it will ruin the sambal).

Sambal after 2 hours cooking
Slow simmered for nearly two hours.

Reduce heat to simmer, continue cooking and stirring for half an hour.  Add the remaining oil, and cook another hour.

the finished sambal badjak
Minutes after the heat was turned off – it darkened further upon cooling.

The Final Result

The finished product was more like the Huy Fong version than my previous attempts, but failed on a few points.  It was a bit too sweet, so reducing the palm sugar from 2 tbsp to 1 tbsp is recommended.  I remember the Huy Fong Sambal Badjak as being a little bit sweet, but not as sweet as most other versions of the sauce.  The smokey taste was there, but muted – it might be worth roasting the red jalapeños over a wood fire to get something stronger.  Though I suspect a frank smoke taste would ruin the sauce.

The sauce wasn’t dark enough: the Huy Fong version was dark brown.  I thought of doing a French-style browning of the onions as if for classic French Onion Soup, and the sauce could probably have used another spoonful of soy sauce – using dark soy could also help get the color.  I do like the color I got, and it did darken further upon cooling.

The final difference was the coconut milk.  I’m not sure it was even used in Huy Fong’s version, but I do like it.  But I shouldn’t have used the whole can – I think half as much would have been better.  And next time I’m going to add a bit more fish sauce, it pretty much disappeared, and try adding more water and cooking it longer.  The Huy Fong version was also smooth, so you might blend the final sauce to a fine puree – I like it a bit chunky.

Finally, I’m going to bottle this and cover it with a layer of oil.  That was one characteristic of the Huy Fong that I also didn’t replicate: it was a very oily sauce, with a good half-inch of darkly colored oil on top when opened.  Reducing or eliminating the coconut milk would certainly help with that, as the milk helps keep the oil incorporated, though it does rise to the top over time in the refrigerator.

At the end, I was pretty happy with the sauce – I’m not there yet, but that’s half the fun.  The rest of the fun is smearing this over some fresh-fried salty chicken.  Yum!

BTW, this version is hot, as in very hot.  Not carcinogenic, but hot.  If you don’t want it so spicy, I’d use fewer arbols and chipotles.

Be well, enjoy, and have fun!

[NOTE:  Be sure to read Jeff’s insightful comment on this post – he’s the guy who was looking for a recipe, and he makes some cogent, insightful, and hilarious comments.  I can tell Jeff is a fun guy.]

4 thoughts on “Fun with Food I: Recreating the Huy Fong Sambal Badjak”

  1. Meester-Doctor-Richard –

    Thanks for taking the time to try & recreate this neat sambal. It’s obviously been many years since I’ve seen/tasted Huy Fong’s original stuff, so my recollections are clouded by time. Such is life!

    A few memories/thoughts:

    – Seeing bits of what looked like roasted/blackened pepper flakes in the sauce. If one was to take & roast jalapeno peppers over a nice hot gas flame (as in roasting green chiles), that might give the elusive smoky flavor, plus the “dark bits.” Some salsas in Mexican restaurants use fire roasted chiles to yield a smoky flavored spicy salsa.

    – From what I remember, there was no coconut flavor in the sambal. Nor was there any coagulated looking milky bits (sometimes seen when you cook coconut milk or yogurt in curries). I’d be inclined to omit coconut milk and use just vegetable/peanut oil instead.

    – Most of the recipes for sambal badjak I’ve seen call for trasi (fermented shrimp paste), not any sort of fish sauce. I don’t like Tiparos anyway (I prefer Three Crabs – much less “fishy”), color me picky! I don’t have any trasi here at home (the package that I had in our pantry stank so much that I sacrificed it to the trash gods). I DO have a glass container of Chinese fermented shrimp paste…somewhere….either in the kitchen, or our pantry, or the breezeway, or maybe even in the garage. The real shrimp paste/trasi might result in a more full/”rounder” flavor than fish sauce. Then again, it might not!

    – I’ve seen some recipes including tomatoes. I don’t think that Huy Fong’s sambal included them, so that’s a no-go for me (ref: http://indonesiaeats.com/sambal-bajak-sambal-badjak-javanese-sambal/ )

    – I think that cashews are a decent substitute for candle nuts (less toxic, too!), so that’s a good way to go.

    – As WONDERFUL as Penzeys is, I’m not inclined to use dried galangal or lemon grass. In a perfect world, the recipe might use fresh galangal & lemon grass. I DO NOT recall much of an herbal lemony limey cinnamony flavor in HUY Fong’s product at all, so I think that this concern (OK, whine) might have little impact on the finished sambal.

    – Knowing Huy Fong’s love for ripe red jalapeno peppers, it suggests that their recipe might use JUST jalapenos, not any added chipotles or arbols or… The trick is how to get the smoky flavor from red jalapenos (perhaps fire roasting the little spicy buggers before chopping them up).

    – I’d be inclined to use just chopped onions, rather than shallots. Think industrial production/cost constraints.

    As to the smokiness we both recall in Huy Fong’s version of sambal badjak….this may NOT be traditional. NONE of the sambal badjak recipes I’ve seen online call for fire roasting/smoking the chiles. They just chop everything up & fry it with some oil. Remember that Huy Fong’s version of Sriracha sauce is probably not the traditional (yuckily sweet) Si-Racha Thai stuff.

    On a separate tangent/rant, I’m dismayed to read about Kalifornistan’s apparent attack on Huy Fong. First the company decides to relocate from Rosemead (small facility) to Irwindale (big facility) so as to be able to meet customer demand for their products. Mucho-neighbor complaints about the horrid garlic/chile odors…poor little whiny babies. Now, K-stan’s Department of Public Health has demanded that Huy Fong hold onto their finished products for 30 days to ensure that the nasty eeevil microbes inherent in chile pepper products don’t try to take over the earth…and stuff…and things.

    ref: http://www.csmonitor.com/USA/2013/1213/Sriracha-shortage-California-holds-the-hot-sauce-and-foodies-are-fuming.-video

    …and…

    http://www.npr.org/blogs/thetwo-way/2013/12/12/250430086/sriracha-maker-told-to-hold-its-sauce-for-30-days

    It’s feces like this that forces companies to relocate from an overly restrictive corporate environment (i.e., Kalifornistan) to a more reasonable business climate. Should that result in the loss of jobs/tax revenue for the peeps in Kalifornistan, F’em. Too f’ing bad. Enjoy your glorious “cruelty free”, microbe free chile sauce environment. Do it for the children. Yob tvoyu mat, chinga tu madre, und so weiter.

    Jeff Johnson

  2. Jefffff!

    What a delightful, tasty rant! I will be taking all your advice on the sambal, though I do think I’ll be adding Penzey’s galanga and lemon grass because the aroma is, well, nice. Screw authenticity, I’m going for ‘perfect world.’ I think I’m gonna roast the chiles as you say (gas burner) rather than over a smokey fire, dump the shallots (any subtle difference is lost in the sambal anyway), and either get rid of or dramatically reduce the coconut – it’s just overwhelming.

    I admit that I’m scared of trasi / Chinese fermented shrimp paste. I too used to have a jar of that stuff, and while a little bit was magic, a little more was tragic. It’s like clove, or mint – too much is just a little more.

    I’ll admit that the Kali attack on Huy Fong was part of the inspiration for my latest ascent of the sambal badjak. Your rant was right on, and funny shit! I was literally rolling at, “Enjoy your glorious “cruelty free”, microbe free chile sauce environment. Do it for the children.” It makes me wonder whether the end of the Huy Fong badjak and sate had something to do with Kali Kraziness – perhaps they weren’t just insufficiently popular products. On the other hand, Huy Fong does process all their jalapeños during a fairly short period, and it must be intense. I can personally attest to the power of the chili & garlic combination: at one point my ex forbade me from taking my daily dose of the Tóúng ót tói because our entire house (and especially our bedroom) was beginning to reek of garlic – to say nothing of my breath. I had to switch to the sambal oelek. I think the area residents do have a real issue, but I’m sure the Krazy Kali Korrectness Kops will schtump all over it and take the same sort of corrective actions that continue to justify California’s role as the entertainment capital of the world.

    I will be doing another blog post on this one when I make the next batch – which, given the short season for really ripe jalapeños, means soon. In fact . . .

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