This pork in tamarind sauce recipe belonged to the late Mrs Leong Yee Soo, who is described in the foreword to her cookbook ‘The Best of Singapore Cooking’, as having “represented the last bastion of Peranakan cooks, whose attention to detail are legendary and for whom cooking skills are developed to a fine art”. Her original, hardback recipe book was the first cookbook I purchased decades ago, and which I still consider as one of my most invaluable resources for fine recipes on Peranakan cuisine.
Here is one such recipe, featuring pork in tamarind sauce (Babi Assam). There is absolutely nothing in this recipe that compelled me to tweak listed proportions or ingredients – it is perfect the way it is presented. This is a truly appetising, zesty dish offering tangy, robust flavours of tamarind juice infused with soy bean paste, and spiced up with fresh red and green chillies. I hope you will try this one day!
Pork in Tamarind Sauce (Babi Assam)
- 4 candlenuts
- 90 g shallots, peeled
- 1 tbsp shrimp paste (belacan), toasted
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1 chicken seasoning cube
- 2 tbsp sugar
- 2 tbsp preserved or salted soy bean paste
- 570 g pork belly, cut into thick strips
- 30 g tamarind pulp, squeezed in 285 ml water, strained
- 8 green chillies, slit halfway lengthwise, seeds removed
- 6 red chillies, slit halfway lengthwise, seeds removed
- 4 tbsp oil
- Using a mortar and pestle or blender, pound or blend (A) till fine. Add a little oil to grease the blades if necessary.
- Heat up oil in a wok over medium heat. When hot, add (A) and fry till fragrant and light brown. Add preserved or salted soy bean paste, ingredients (B), and stir over low heat for a short while.
- Put in pork slices with 1/3 of tamarind juice. When pork begins to change colour, add in the green and red chillies and the remaining tamarind juice. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer till pork is tender, about 45 minutes to an hour. While cooking, add a little water if gravy gets too thick or reduces too quickly before pork gets tender. Serve hot.