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Kecap Manis
Jun 1st, 2006

We've got a few more exotic ingredients to deal with today. This Indonesian seasoned soy sauce calls for salam leaves, which are apparently extremely hard to find but can be replaced by curry leaves, which are slightly less hard to find. You'll also need to rustle up some galangal and some star anise. Oh, and some palm sugar, although you can use white granulated sugar in a pinch or the internet would like to offer maple syrup mixed with dark brown sugar as a possible substitute. I ended up using the curry leaf substitution and just regular white sugar, although I'm sure I could have found palm sugar, it just didn't make it onto my list.

So, in order

Salam leaves: Indonesian Bay leaves. Curry leaves or bay leaves are offered as substitutes, although there seems to be some controversy among various web sites I checked. Some say just curry leaves are acceptable, others say if you don't have them just leave them out as there are no acceptable substitutions.

Curry Leaves: These have nothing to do with curry powder, they're the leaves of the curry leaf tree/plant and are used in cooking but do not have a curry flavor. I bit into one and it tasted kind of tart, almost medicinal. You can find them at Indian and Asian groceries, and the remainder can be frozen (still on the stem) for later use.

Galangal: Very similar to ginger, there are several different varieties of galangal and it goes by several names. It's a big tuber and can be found in the produce section of Asian grocery stores. Ginger can be substituted.

Star Anise: This is probably the most familiar to American cooks, as it can be found in the spice sections of mainstream grocery stores. It's a woody, 8-pointed star shape with a strong sweet licorice taste and smell. If you've tasted or smelled Chinese 5 spice powder, you've encountered star anise as it is the overwhelming spice in that mixture in my opinion. There is no substitute that I know of, but you should be able to find it.

Palm Sugar: The concentrated sap of certain palm trees, it comes in a range of colors and shapes. I've seen it in brown cylinders, apparently it also comes in jars. It's also known as jaggery and used in Indian cooking. So I imagine you can find it in either Asian (it's a common Thai ingredient) or Indian stores.

James Peterson claims that he has never come across Kecap Manis (also called Sambal Kecap Manis, I believe Sambal means sauce) in stores in the US, but my version of Splendid Soups is ten+ years old at this point, so that may not be the case. This site gives another recipe for the sauce and claims the commercial version should be easy to find in Asian food stores in the US, under the following brand names: Kecap Cap Bango or Kecap Manis ABC.

So maybe I could have just gone and grabbed a bottle of the stuff, but I had fun learning about new ingredients and a little about Indonesian cuisine. Hmmm... what exotic ingredients should I try to track down next? I'm open to suggestions.

Anyway, my only notes on the recipe would be to not get scared about melting the sugar. If you keep stirring the sugar will eventually melt without burning. But be prepared, because when you pour in the cold ingredients the sugar makes a lot of scary hissing noises and then seizes up into an interesting crystalline structure. Just keep cooking and stirring and it will melt again. But it practically gave my mom a heart attack. So be warned.

The sauce keeps indefinitely in the fridge. I plan on using it for a grilling marinade this summer - I think it would go very well with chicken on the barbecue.


Kecap Manis

1 22-ounce bottle light Chinese soy sauce
4 salam leaves or 8 curry leaves (salam leaves are hard to find, Peterson says they're a kind of tropical bay leaf)
a 1/4-inch slice of galangal, chopped
4 star anise, crushed
1 clove garlic, sliced
2 cups granulated or palm sugar


In a mixing bowl, combine all the ingredients except the sugar. Cook the sugar over medium heat in a heavy-bottomed 4-quart saucepan. Stir constantly until the sugar has completely melted and turns to a light caramel. Add the ingredients in the mixing bowl to the sugar, which will most likely seize up at this point, fear not it will melt again. Bring the mixture to a simmer and simmer for 15 minutes. Remove from the heat and let cool. Strain. Store in a bottle in the refrigerator for at least a year.

-Splendid Soups, James Peterson
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Comments

Just a point of clarification: in Indonesian "kecap" means sauce and "manis" means sweet, so basically this is a sweet sauce. Kecap manis is always made primarily of soy with the seasoning you listed above. Being from Indonesia and having bottles of pre-made kecap manis in stores everywhere, I never really bothered to figure out what exactly goes into it. I learned something new from your recipe.

"Sambal" is actually a type of hot chili paste. So "sambal kecap manis" is a mixture of hot chili paste and kecap manis.

-posted by Yohan on Jul 22nd, 2006
© 2006, Kimberly Cooperrider | kymmco@excite.com