The colour can be anywhere from pink to dark brown. It is famed among Western cooks for its smell, rivalling the stinkiest of French cheeses. It has a very pronounced salty, fishy flavour when concentrated, but you use it only in small quantities to add a subtle background flavour that enriches other flavours.
The ingredients will usually just be shrimp, salt and water.
To make it, very small shrimp (krill) are mashed into a paste, which is then buried in the ground for several months to let it decay and ferment. Then the paste is dug up, fried and pressed into small blocks.
Alternatively, the shrimp are salted, and allowed to dry in the sun on platforms slightly raised off the ground. This concentrates the flavour, and stops mould from developing. As the shrimp decay, they moosh into each other and form a pulp, which is then pressed into a paste. Then, the paste is allowed to ferment, then repressed and allowed to ferment then pressed again a final time, allowed to dry, then cut into blocks for sale. This whole process will take a few weeks.
The name of the producer is sometimes pressed on top of the blocks. They’ll use a metal press brushed with a vegetable oil so that it won’t stick to the paste. The blocks get wrapped in waxed paper, then plastic, then a final layer of wrapping which is what the outside world sees, the packaging.
A village in Malaysia at the south-western tip of Penang island, called “Pulau Betong”, is famous for the quality of is Dried Shrimp Paste.
Dried Shrimp Paste is sold in blocks or small plastic tubs. If you are using a block, slice off the amount needed.
The lighter-coloured Dried Shrimp Pastes are better in dipping sauces; the darker-coloured ones are better as an ingredient in a curry, for example.
Dried Shrimp Paste usually needs cooking or it can cause an upset stomach. Often recipes will call for it to be toasted first (this means just dry-fry your paste for 2 minutes each side if using a slice, or about 4 minutes altogether if using from a tub.) You could also put a slice under the broiler (aka grill in the UK) or in the toaster oven for the required time for each side. It will take on a greyish or whitish colour when “cooked.”
If recipe doesn’t say when to add it, add it while garlic and shallots (or onions) are being sautéed. It has a very foul odour at first that will permeate the kitchen, but the smell gets better as it cooks.
Some producers used to use Rhodamine B (“fluorescent red”) food colouring to improve the coloration of the product, but this is now banned.
1 tablespoon = 4/5th oz = 22g
Rewrap in its package (in the package didn’t include tin foil, wrap in tin foil as well), put in a sealed container, and store in a cool place or in the fridge for up to 3 months (longer if in fridge.) If your Dried Shrimp Paste came in a tub, there may have been a wax layer on top: replace wax layer and store in fridge.
Making Dried Shrimp Paste was a way of preserving shrimp when they were abundant, and was a way of creating a useable product out of very small shrimp, which people wouldn’t have ordinarily wanted for cooking with.
In Thai, called “kapi”; in Burmese, called “pazun ngapi”; in Vietnamese, called “mam ruoc”; in Indonesian, “Terasi”, “Trasi” or “Trassi”; in Malaysian, “belacan” (or blacan, blanchan or balachong, or some variant thereof).