How to make an easy, quick 10-minute spicy Malay dish, Sambal Sardines.
Sambal Sardines is one of those quick dishes that just doesn’t get enough credit. This is a spicy, saucy, hearty dish that is filling and is so delicious when served with some rice or with bread! I especially love making for for dinner, and having some leftover for a sambal sardine sandwich the next day.
The best thing is that it takes just 10 minutes to whip up and ultra easy!
Canned Sardines in Tomato Sauce
The key ingredient is of course, the canned sardines. You’ll need to purchase the ones with tomato sauce. These are cooked ready-to-eat sardines soaked in a flavourful tomato sauce. I’ve never actually eaten them as is; it’s always this sambal sardine for me!
The brand I always use is Ayam Brand, since it’s what my Mom has always used and I like the flavour. Any brand will do.
Will canned sardines in oil or water work too?
Sardines in tomato sauce are available very easily here in Singapore and Malaysia. Everywhere else, I believe they’re easy to find as well, but I am aware that sardines in oil or water are a lot more popular.
You can use those too for this recipe! Drain the sardines, and add it at the same step as this recipe. Then simply add tomato ketchup to make up for the missing tomato sauce. For this recipe I would add 2 tablespoons, but feel free to add more if you enjoy the flavour of the sweet, tangy tomato ketchup. The best thing about this is that you can use your favourite brand of tomato ketchup.
The Sambal Sauce
I used my dried chilli paste for this recipe – I always have some ready to go in the fridge.
If you are making it from scratch, refer to this post for how to easily make some. When making it from scratch, you have the option of blending it together with the onions or shallots, garlic, ginger and belachan to get a nice, thicker, creamier gravy.
By the way, I love to add the belachan or fermented dried shrimp paste since it complements the sardines well, but if you want an even easier dish, feel free to leave out the belachan. I always have belachan in my pantry, so it’s an easy add. If you want to go a step further, you can also toast the belachan first to deepen the taste, but I usually do not and I can still enjoy its flavour.
You will need to cook down the dried chilli paste properly for the best results! Cooking it properly simply involves stirring it over low to medium heat until it deepens in colour. This is called “pecah minyak” in Malay – refer to this post for more details on this!
Why does my Sambal Sardines have a metallic taste?
Personally I’ve never had an issue with this. Some brands of canned sardines might impart a metallic taste to the sauce. An easy fix for this is to simply allow the sardines to continue to cook in the sauce until the unpleasant taste is removed.
How to level up the Sambal Sardines even more?
This is my basic, easy version, but if you want to level it up even more, add some sliced potatoes and tomatoes. Add the potatoes before adding the sardines and allow it cook and soften.
My mom goes a step further and fries the potatoes first before adding to the dish. This results in super addictive potato wedges that soaks up all that spicy sambal sauce! We fight over the potatoes whenever my Mom does this.
If you want even more spice, add a couple of Thai Bird’s Eye Chillies for even more kick.
What to do with leftover Sambal Sardines?
I always – ALWAYS – make extra sambal sardines. The next day, I would mash the sardines and make a sandwich with it! The sambal makes for a great sauce, and I love adding an omelette and cheese (mandatory!). Grill it up, and it will be one of the best fish sandwiches you’ve ever had in your life.
More recipes like this:
If you love this quick and easy Malay dish, you will love these too:
- Sambal Telur Pecah | Sunny Side Up Eggs in Sambal
- Black Pepper Beef Stir Fry
- Sambal Prawns
- Sotong Masak Hitam | Squid Ink Stir Fry
Sambal SardinesCourse: Recipes
425g or 1 large canned sardines in Tomato Sauce
50g or 2 tbsps Dried Chilli Paste
1 Onion, sliced
2 tsps Garlic, minced
2 tsps Ginger, minced
1 tsp Belachan or Fermented Dried Shrimp Paste
1/2 cup Water
1/2 tsp Tamarind paste (optional)
1/2 tsp Salt, or to taste
2 tsps Sugar, or to taste
- Add oil to pan, and over low to medium heat, add the dried chilli paste, onions, garlic, ginger and the belachan, and saute until fragrant. Option to blend all of these ingredients to a paste.
- Stir fry over low to medium heat until the dried chilli paste has dried down slightly, turned a deeper shade of red and emulsified. This is known as “pecah minyak”.
- Once the dried chilli paste has cooked down, add water, along with the optional tamarind paste, salt and sugar to taste. Stir to combine.
- Let the sauce come to a boil, before adding the entire can of sardines with the tomato sauce.
- Gently stir to incorporate, and let this cook for about 5 minutes or so. This step is just to heat up the sardines.
- Give it a final taste test, add some extra seasoning if needed, and your sambal sardine is done!