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What is Terasi?

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  • Written By: Sara Schmidt
  • Edited By: Andrew Jones
  • Last Modified Date: 22 September 2016
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In Southeast Asia, a type of shrimp paste known as terasi is used in many flavorful dishes. The strongly-scented sauce is created from ground raw shrimp. The shrimp is fermented and dried in the sun, before being cut into single use-sized blocks.

The form of freshly made terasi is typically that of a small square cake. When sold commercially, or during preparation, however, it may exist in the form of crumbles or ground powder. Its color can range from rich mahogany to a lighter shade of brown. The flavor of the paste is usually very salty and pungent, much like many other fish flavors.

A spicy Malay-Indonesian sauce, terasi is used in several signature dishes. The piquant fruit salad known as fruit rujak includes the dried shrimp paste. Stir fry recipes also frequently call for the ingredient. Shrimp crackers and terasi is a popular snack or appetizer in some areas. A chili-based South Asian condiment known as sambal includes terasi.

To make sambal terasi, one may sauté sliced red chilies, chopped tomatoes, peeled shallots, garlic cloves, and tarasi in a small amount of oil. After a few minutes, the mixture should be removed from heat and poured into a mortar or bowl. A small amount of sugar, lime juice, and salt is added before grinding all of the ingredients together. The blend may be refrigerated for up to one week.

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Fried rice can be made with this fishy paste. One may blend the sauce with other traditional ingredients, such as garlic, shallots, or other flavoring agents. It can then be sautéd with any meats or vegetables desired inside a wok.

An important distinction between this ingredient and other types of sauces is that terasi requires cooking during or prior to use. Alone, the powder or patty is considered raw. Most cooks prefer to either roast or fry the paste prior to use, or while preparing the main dish itself.

Terasi is generally inexpensive to purchase ready made. It can be found in specialty Asian shops as well as online. It is typically packaged in a glass or plastic jar, and is available in 7.5 to 16 ounce (213 to 454 gram) sizes.

When searching for this paste, it is important to remember that it may be known as something else, depending on where it was made. In Singapore, the sauce is known as belachan or belacan. In Vietnam, it is called Mắm Tôm, Mắm Tép, or Mắm Ruốc, depending on what type of shrimp is used. In Laos, it is known as kapi.

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