Tamarind Pork

Tuesday, 20 October 2009

PhotobucketI love Chinese food, and I love Malay food. So it's no wonder that Nyonya dishes that combine the best of these two great cuisines are my perennial favourites.

Babi assam – meaning tamarind pork – is a prime example of how the Straits Chinese or Peranakans combine Chinese and Malay flavours.

Fermented soya beans from China are melded with common Malay ingredients – tamarind, shrimp paste and chillies – in a slow, long simmer.

The heat and tangy tamarind tenderize the pork belly till it melts in the mouth. The mix of lean and fat pork is juicy and moist, and the pork rind is soft and gelatinous. The spicy and tart flavours really whet my appetite, even when the weather is super hot and saps my energy. In short, it's sheer heaven. This is fusion cuisine at its best, first created decades ago before anyone invented the phrase.

Source: The Best of Singapore Cooking, Mrs Leong Yee Soo
(Recipe for 6 persons)

4 candlenuts
90 g shallots
1 tbsp belachan

4 tbsp oil

2 tbsp fermented soya beans, pounded or blitzed in a chopper
½ tsp salt
1 chicken cube
2 tbsp sugar

570 g pork belly, cut chunky about 4 cm (1½ inches) thick
30 g tamarind, mix well with 285 ml water and strain

8 green chillies, slit halfway lengthwise
6 red chillies, slit halfway lengthwise

Pound or grind candlenuts, shallots and shrimp paste till fine. Heat oil in a wok and and fry the mixture till fragrant and light brown. Add fermented soya bean paste, salt, chicken cube and sugar. Stir over low heat for a short while.

Add pork with ⅓ of tamarind juice. When pork begins to change colour, add red and green chillies and remaining tamarind juice. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer till tender, 45-60 minutes. While cooking, add a little water if gravy is too thick. Serve hot.


pudgiejrt said...

Hmmm...this recipe asks for candlenuts, shallots, shrimp paste and tau cheo (salted soya beans)? My aunt who verbally taught me how to make assam babi said that the only ingredient needed is just assam paste. As in, marinade the pork belly in assam paste overnight. I have never cooked this dish before and I'm keen to make them one day. Do hope you can help clarify the difference btwn using the mentioned added ingredients in yr blog as compared to just using assam paste.
Thks very much!

Another avid cook

pudgiejrt said...

Oops... I forgot to add too... my aunt's version is the "dry" type. She fries the pork belly after overnight marinating of the pork belly in assam paste. No gravy whatsoever. Not too sure if you know anything about this...?

KT said...

Hi pudglejrt, yes, there's a dry version: Babi Goreng Assam (Fried Tamarind Pork) or Ayam Goreng Assam (Fried Tamarind Chicken). No candlenuts, etc but there's salt, sugar, light soya sauce and pepper to balance the assam.

Mrs Leong Yee Soo's recipe for Fried Tamarind Chicken:

1.2 kg chicken, cut into 4 pieces and pricked all over
3 tbsp tamarind (assam) pulp
8 tbsp water
1 1/2 tsp salt
3 tsp sugar
1 tsp pepper
2 tsp light soya sauce

She deep fries the chicken after marinating it for 45 minutes. I think it's easier if you pan fry deboned chicken thighs or breasts (flattened). And marinate longer (couple of hours) if possible. Of course, you can pan fry pork belly instead of chicken.

The braised version in this post can be pan fried instead if you fancy. Just make sure you scrap off the marinade. Otherwise, it would burn.

Don't forget Ayam Sioh, which uses mainly assam and coriander seeds as a marinade. I love that, too. Recipe's here: http://kitchentigress.blogspot.com/2009/10/ayam-sioh.html

Pudgiejrt said...

Oh WOW!!! Thanks very much for taking the extra effort to go all out to fetch me the dry version of assam pork! I can finally get started! My aunt only taught me in brief of how it should be done with no mention of any extra added ingredients like salt, which I believe is essential to contribute to part of that yummy flavour. Thanks so much KT! My hubby loves pork belly and I'm making this nyonya dish for him tonight!

KY said...

Hi, I'm glad I stumbled upon your blog. I have this cookbook but didn't notice this recipe before. I think the book needs a picture like yours. :) Shrimp paste is belacan, right? Isn't 1 tablespoon a lot for this recipe? I'll definitely have to fry the mixture outside the house! ;-p

KT said...


Yes, shrimp paste is belachan. I found 1 tbsp ok when the pork was hot, but it was a bit too strong eating the pork cold. So yes, wouldn't be a bad idea to use a bit less. Or, if you need to 'tame' the belachan towards the end, you can always add more chilli, sugar and assam. Be careful of the salt level too. There's salt in belachan, fermented soya beans and chicken cube. Might be ok or too much depending on the brand you use.


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