An updated post from the archives, with a simpler version of the original recipe, plus new photos and links.
What does ABC mean to you?
Something fundamental, yes? A starting point. A building block.
In the world of food, ABC reminds me of two things.
First, an ABC I don't keep in the pantry: When Ted and Cousin Martin and I traveled through Malaysia, we tasted a dessert called ABC, air batu campur -- literally, "water stone mix" -- a mound of shave ice topped, improbably, with red beans, sweet corn, grass jelly and a drizzle of evaporated milk. Also called ais kacang, it looked like a kind of psychedelic sno-cone.
Second, an ABC I always have in my pantry: kecap manis, a wonderful, sweet soy sauce sold under the ABC brand and, in our house, known as "that ABC stuff in the cupboard."
Kecap -- also spelled ketjap -- manis (pronounced KEH-chup mah-NEESE), is a thick, syrupy, soy sauce fundamental to the cuisine of Indonesia and, to a lesser extent, Malaysia and Singapore. Made of palm sugar, salt, soy beans, garlic and star anise, kecap manis has the consistency of molasses or honey, and an addictive salty-sweet taste.
Used as a dipping sauce, on its own or mixed with sambal oelek and lime, kecap manis also adds flavoring to sauteed shrimp, Penang char hor fun, or squid lo mein, or as a marinade for salmon. Stored in a dry cupboard or in the refrigerator, it will keep almost indefinitely, though it should be replaced after two years.
In addition to ABC brand, you might find Cap Bango, with an illustration of a pelican on the label. Both brands are imported from Indonesia. Cap Bango has a bit of a smoky-sweet overtone. It's harder to find in my local Asian markets, whereas ABC is almost always available.
If you can't find kecap manis, you can make your own. Simmer soy sauce and palm sugar or brown sugar together until the mixture turns to syrup. Or mix one part molasses with two parts soy sauce. Here's another recipe that adds the flavor of lemongrass, garlic and star anise.
Kecap manis would taste great on cottage cheese, but unlike American tomato ketchup (which shares the same word derivation, from the Cantonese koechiap, meaning "sauce"), it could never pass for a vegetable.
Nasi goreng (Indonesian fried rice)
The first bite might take your head off, but after that the warm glow of Sriracha, tempered by the sweetness of kecap manis, will be positively addicting. Just ask my friends Bob and Bev, who aren't super-spicy-food lovers; they taste-tested this recipe and couldn't stop eating it. Note: this recipe calls for cold cooked rice, which can be made up to a week ahead of time; or, buy steamed rice from a Chinese restaurant, and chill it. Serves 4-5 as a side dish; can be doubled.
2 Tbsp canola oil
10 large shrimp (21-25 size), peeled, deveined, sliced in half length-wise
1 garlic clove, minced
1-1/2 cups storebought cole slaw mix (or 1-1/4 cups shredded green cabbage plus 1/4 cup shredded carrot)
1 cup shredded cooked chicken (I used rotisserie chicken from the supermarket)
1 egg, lightly beaten
3 cups cooked long-grain or basmati rice, cold
2 Tbsp kecap manis
1/2 tsp sesame oil
1 Tbsp Sriracha (or less, to taste)
In a wok, heat the oil over high heat. Add the shrimp, garlic and cole slaw mix, and stir fry for 2 minutes. Add the chicken, and cook for an additional 2 minutes or until the shrimp are pink and curled. Push the mixture to one side, and pour in the beaten egg. Let cook 1 minute or until just set. Add the rice, and stir all together, chopping up the rice clumps and the egg with a wooden spoon. Stir in the kecap, sesame oil and Sriracha, and stir to combine all ingredients. Serve hot.
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