Sambal Oelek refers to a chili sauce or paste that is a popular addition to Malaysian and Indonesian dishes, although many other recipes now call for the use of this ingredient too.
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The same company that makes Huy Fong Sriracha sauce also makes a version of sambal oelek. While both of these sauces can be used to flavor all types of food, and both got their start in Southeast Asia, they're actually very different. The fact is, there is not just one sambal (the Javanese word for condiment).
Sambal oelek has a very short ingredient list: salt and hot red raw chile peppers. The two ingredients are blended together using a mortar and pestle, and the flavor is out-of-this-world delicious. This sauce (or paste) originally came from Indonesia, and it's used there as a basic condiment.
This sauce is made from ground chili peppers which have then been complemented with vinegar, garlic, salt, and garlic. Often it is added to stir-fries, noodles, meat or fish dishes, burgers, and tofu. Due to the taste of this sauce, it is best used as a base ingredient rather than a condiment.
If you have gone to reach for this ingredient only to discover that you don’t have any available, or your local supermarket doesn’t have it in stock you will be pleased to know that there are several substitutes available. We have listed 5 of the best options below, most of which are easy replacements.
When looking for Sambal Oelek substitute, some of the best alternatives for Sambal Oelek are crushed red chili flakes, chili pepper, sriracha, and gochujang. Whilst they won’t be exact replications of the sauce, they will be fairly similar and it is likely that most people will not notice a huge difference. If you don’t have any of these substitutes, you may add a small amount of harissa paste instead.
Alternatively, some people may choose to substitute a shop bought jar of this sauce with their own homemade version. This option isn’t going to be overly challenging and it allows you to control what ingredients are added to it. If you possess a food grinder or blender then you are good to go.
The substitute that you choose will be determined by the dish that you are making. You may find that some of the following ingredients complement your dish better than others.
Gochujang is a red chili paste that comes in savory, spicy, and sweet varieties. It is becoming increasingly popular in Western supermarkets. It is created through a fermentation process and is made from meju powder, yeotgireum, gochugaru, salt, and glutinous rice.
Some brands create very spicy versions of this sauce. Because of its texture, it works particularly well when used as a substitute in stir-fries, whilst the taste enhances the flavor of marinades and burger patties.
It is worth noting that gochujang has a richer flavor so you will need to be careful with the amount that you add to your dish. For this reason, we would recommend that you begin by adding half the quantity of Gochujang than what the recipe originally calls for sambal oelek. You can always increase the amount that you add if you feel as though it needs more flavor.
Red Pepper Flakes
As implied by its name, this substitute is made from crushed chili peppers. Because this is a dry spice it does not share the same consistency as a sauce, however, this is an ideal option for those who are looking for a quick and convenient replacement. For the best results, we would recommend adding some liquid to the flakes such as oyster sauce or fish sauce as this will make them a little more moist.
Crushed red pepper flakes have quite a prominent spicy flavor which may not appeal to all individuals.
Sriracha is possibly one of the most popular types of hot sauce or chili sauce. In fact, you will likely find that the majority of supermarkets are stocked up on it. It is made from garlic, salt, sugar, distilled vinegar, and chili peppers.
It is bright red in color and can be used in virtually any recipe that uses sambal oelek. The taste of this sauce can vary between brands. Generally, it tends to have a rather tangy but sweet taste with a spicy element, however, the garlic gives it a kick of flavor too.
It is likely that some people may notice a difference in taste between sambal oelek and sriracha due to the sweetness of the latter. To overcome this issue, you can easily make slight adjustments to the amount that you add to your recipe.
If desired, you can balance out this sweetness by adding some soy sauce or salt. If you aren’t a fan of garlic, you can either opt for a different substitute or you can add less to your dish.
A hot chili paste made from roasted red peppers, herbs, spices, Baklouti peppers, coriander seeds, cumin, and olive oil, harissa has a deep spicy flavor though it can sometimes taste smoky or sweet. It works well in savory dishes and Asian recipes. Aside from this, you can also use harissa as a substitute in a meat rub.
As the flavor of harissa is quite intense, we would recommend that you begin by adding a small amount to your recipe. You can then taste it and if necessary you may wish to add more. Adding too much may affect the outcome of your dish as it is likely to overwhelm it.
Make your own sambal oelek
For those that aren’t restricted on time, homemade sambal oelek is a great option. Although there are a few steps involved, it isn’t an overly challenging task. You will require the use of a food blender or processor.
Begin by adding around a pound of chili peppers, a sprinkle of salt, and ¼ cup of vinegar. You will then need to blend the ingredients until they create a paste with a thick texture. Nex, you can add these ingredients to a saucepan and allow them to simmer for a maximum of 3 minutes.
As you are making your own version, you can decide whether you want to add any additional ingredients to enhance the flavor. For example, you may wish to add some garlic for more of a kick. So long as it is stored correctly in an airtight container, it can last for a considerable amount of time in the refrigerator.
What is sambal oelek used for in cooking?
As previously touched upon, this sauce is commonly used in Malaysian and Indonesian recipes, with stir-fries being a particular flavor. As it is quite flavorsome it adds a noticeable bite and will strengthen the overall taste of the dish.
If you decide to make a stir fry using sambal oelek, we recommend that you add it to the pan as it is cooking as doing so will lock in more flavor. Some people may also decide to use sambal oelek as a condiment. It adds a great taste to meats and fish.
Now sambal oelek is gaining popularity in Western style recipes that could benefit from a hint of spice. Those that do not like a lot of spice should be cautious when adding it to their food because it can be a little overwhelming and may end up ruining the authenticity and overall taste of the dish.
The recipe that you are following will more than likely state the exact amount of sambal oelek that you need to use. However, you may wish to begin by adding a small amount before tasting it. You can then add some more for a greater kick if you don’t think it is hugely noticeable.
As you can see, there are several substitutes available that can be used in many dishes instead of sambal oelek. Some will be very similar to this sauce in regards to the taste and texture, whilst there will be subtle but noticeable differences between others.
You may find some of these substitute suggestions nicer tasting than others, so it is important to choose the type that caters to your personal preference. If you don’t like the flavor of a particular substitute that we have listed above, you can choose another.
You also have the option of making your own homemade version where you have full control of the ingredients that are added to it. You can make your own with red pepper flake, thick sriracha sauce, cayenne pepper, and tomato paste. This should make a delicious chili paste.
Our Best Substitutes For Sambal Oelek
Use in or with your favorite recipe.