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Shrimp in Chile-Lemongrass Sauce

Servings: four.

This Malaysian stir-fry gets its flavor from a rempah, or spice paste. Usually the rempah would include a few hard-to-find ingredients, but I’ve made some substitutions so you’ll be able to get everything in a well-stocked supermarket. If you have access to authentic Malaysian ingredients, you can make the substitutions in the tip below.


For the spice paste:

  • 1 large dried New Mexico or California red chile
  • 2 dried chiles de árbol or cayenne chiles
  • 2 stalks fresh lemongrass
  • 1 Tbs. chopped fresh ginger
  • 2 tsp. slivered almonds
  • 4 large shallots, coarsely chopped
  • 4 to 5 cloves garlic, coarsely chopped
  • 1 tsp. fish sauce
  • 2 fresh red Fresno chiles or red jalapeños, seeded and sliced

For the shrimp:

  • 1/3 cup corn oil or vegetable oil
  • 1 pound large shrimp (26-30 per pound), shelled, deveined, rinsed, and patted dry
  • 1 medium onion, halved through the stem and cut lengthwise into 1/2-inch slices
  • 2 small tomatoes, cored and cut through the stem end into 8 wedges
  • 2 Tbs. granulated sugar
  • 1 tsp. kosher salt
  • 2 Tbs. fresh lime juice

Nutritional Information

  • Nutritional Sample Size based on four
  • Calories (kcal) : 340
  • Fat Calories (kcal): 180
  • Fat (g): 21
  • Saturated Fat (g): 2
  • Polyunsaturated Fat (g): 9
  • Monounsaturated Fat (g): 9
  • Cholesterol (mg): 170
  • Sodium (mg): 900
  • Carbohydrates (g): 22
  • Fiber (g): 2
  • Protein (g): 20


Make the rempah:

  • Cut all the dried chiles into 4 or 5 pieces each with scissors; shake out the seeds. Put the chiles in a small saucepan and cover with water. Bring to a boil and reduce the heat, simmering until the chiles are soft and flexible, about 3 minutes. Drain the chiles, reserving the water. Put the chiles in a blender.
  • Trim off the root and top section of the lemongrass, leaving a 5- to 6-inch section of bottom stem. Remove the fibrous outer layers until you reach the tender white core. Smash this core with the side of a knife to flatten it slightly. Cut it in half lengthwise and then slice crosswise into thin pieces.
  • Add the lemongrass, ginger, almonds, shallots, garlic, fish sauce, fresh chiles, and 3 tablespoons of the reserved chile water to the blender. Blend to a smooth purée, adding a few more tablespoons of the chile water, or up to 1/2 cup total if needed, to facilitate blending.

Cook the shrimp in the rempah:

  • Heat a nonstick wok or stir-fry pan or a large sauté pan over medium heat for 2 minutes. Add the oil and swirl to coat the pan. Scrape the rempah into the pan and fry gently, stirring continuously with a wooden spoon until the oil and rempah are blended and emulsified, about 1 minute. Continue frying, stirring occasionally, until the mixture darkens and thickens to a porridge consistency, 3 to 5 minutes. (If you added extra water to the blender, it may take longer to thicken.) The rempah should separate, with reddish beads of oil on the surface.
  • Increase the heat to medium-high and add the shrimp and onions. Fry them, tossing and flipping frequently, until the shrimp feel firm to the touch and the onions are crisp-tender, 3 to 5 minutes. Add the tomato, sugar, salt, and lime juice, stirring and cooking just long enough to mix and to heat the tomato wedges without breaking them apart.

Serve with steamed rice.


For a more authentic rempah, substitute chopped galangal for the ginger, 1/2 tsp. dried shrimp sauce (blachan) for the fish sauce, and two candlenuts, soaked for 10 minutes in lukewarm water, for the almonds.


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