Heh Bi Hiam (HBH or 蝦米辣) is one of the building blocks of many home cooked dishes like sambal kangkong, HBH spring rolls, sambal string beans etc.
Here’s the list of ingredients required to produce around 500-750gms of HBH.
- Dried Chilli, 150g, destalked and deseeded
- Shallots, 300g, peeled and finely chopped
- Garlic, 150g, peeled and finely chopped
- Dried Shrimp, 350g
- Vegetable Oil for frying
Putting it together
Simple ingredients, but really tedious and time consuming steps.
Preparing the Chilli Paste
1. Remove all the stalks and seeds in the dried chilli – every one chilli has a stalk. If the stalk is not there, the dried chilli is not dried properly (and most likely bad before drying). Deseed by splitting the chilli and scrapping off the seeds.
2. Boil the dried chilli in water until they are rehydrated and increased in bulk to around 2 times the original size
3. Remove from the liquid. You may leave the seeds that you did not manage to clear earlier behind, we don’t need this liquid anymore.
4. Wash and squeeze all excess liquid from the chilli and leave it in a coriander to drip off excess liquid. It is important that the chilli is as “dry” as possible. The intention is to have the flavour of the chilli, but not too much water so that the cooking time can be shorted. Also moisture shortens the shelf-life of the HBH
TIP: Don’t rush into processing the chilli in the food processor, as you do not want to have too much of the chilli paste in the shallot later.
Preparing the rest of the ingredients
5. Take the different ingredients and pulverised them in the food processor. Start with the dry(er) ingredients like dried shrimp, followed by garlic, shallots and finally chilli. It is important to keep these ingredients separate. The final consistency of the ingredient should be powdery for the shrimp, and baby food like for the chilli, and fine like sesame for the shallot and garlic.
TIP: The proportion you need is 1:1:1:0.2, i.e. i cup of chilli paste for 1 cup of shallot, and 1 cup of dried shrimp and 1/5 cup of garlic. The volume affects the final taste and texture of the HBH, but you may adjust it according to your taste – there are variations with less garlic or no garlic, and less shallots or shrimp. Start with one cup of chilli, and play with the proportion of the rest according to preference. If for HBH spring rolls, then this is the proportion. For normal cooking sambal, less dried shrimp is needed.
(This is the part Mom’s instructions become really an art then a science – all the “up to you” makes the note taking really tough. I figured out the metrics after several trial and errors.)
Cooking the HBH
Mother has a very strict instruction on the sequence of cooking the ingredients. “The HBH cannot store for long if your sequence is not right.”
6. Start with the dried shrimp. As this is the only dry ingredient, start with this and leave it aside. Heat a wok of oil and fry the shrimp until slightly brown. I suggest a non-stick pan or wok, so that you do not need to use so much oil, and the result will be a lighter HBH. Too much oil also may the shrimp lumpy.
7. Next, fry the shallot. Again it is imperative that you fry the ingredient one by one as the cooking time for each is different.
TIP: Do not over fry the shallot and garlic as they will turn bitter. Remember that you will need to combine them again later so leave they about 70% cooked.
8. Next, fry the garlic. Again take care that it did not turn brown or you will have to discard the batch.
9. Next the chilli paste, fry until 50% of the moisture is gone and then you combine the shallot, then the garlic back to the wet mix. It is important to not the sequence again, due to the different timing the ingredients cook.
10. Then you add the wet mix to the dry shrimp that was cooked earlier.
11. Fry until cooked – and cooked means a burgundy (or ruby) colour instead of the bright red chilli that you first started with. Again, watch the colour changes the longer you fry the mix. You won’t want to see brown or black. The final texture should be crumply but not lump. And you should lose around 70% of the moisture by now.
And then you have your home made Heh Bi Hiam (Dried Shrimp Sambal Paste). Moisture is the main spoiler for HBH, so it must be keep in the freezer if you are not using it now (and stores for 3-6 months), or 4-6 weeks in the fridge. I have not added any salt or other seasoning, as the dried shrimp is already salty. This a condiment by itself, and I use it for my dried noodles as well.