It is delicious with freshly made long-grain rice and sambal manis (mind you, it is NOT he same as sambal kecap manis, which is a sweetish soya sauce!) This is how I had it for the first time in a remote mountain village on a stopover during our 25-hour Trans-Sumatran Death Trip From Hell back in 2001.
It took me some time to replicate that taste. There are a lot of tricks of trade that you need to know to fry your tempeh perfectly:
- SMALL EVEN PIECES: Cut the tempeh loaf into even 3-4-mm cubes, this way they all will get cooked evenly.
- CAST-IRON WOK: Heat very well a thick-bottomed pan/wok. Heat is distributed evenly in such ironware making sure that everything is cooked well.
- HOT ODOURLESS OIL: Pour about 1.5 cm of non-smoking cooking oil (mustard rapeseed or grape seed oil is good, olive oil will NOT do) and wait until it gets hot. I normally wait until it just starts ever-so-lightly smoking.
- AMPLE OIL: Don't save on oil, if you've poured too much you can always strain the tempeh and cut the rest with a paper towel. If you don't put enough oil, you'll end up with a soggy, anaemic final product.
- EXPOSE ALL PIECES TO OIL: Add the cut tempeh and make sure it gets all covered with oil immediately. This will form a crust on top of each tempeh cube that won't allow it to soak in too much oil.
- KEEP STIRRING: Make sure the tempeh cubes get evenly fried on all sides.
- MODERATE HEAT: The fire should be medium high. If it is too high, tempeh will get burnt, if it is too low, tempeh will absorb too much oil and end up greasy and soggy.
- DON'T OVERCOOK: Fry until crisp and dark golden brown, NOT dark brown. See the top picture, that's where you should stop.
- ADD FLAVOUR: A dash of fish sauce or shoyu for veg(etari)ans closer to the end adds flavour and saltiness.
The right kind of tempeh is hard to come by. A lot of truly weird stuff is marketed under that name. In London, where I live now, they sell what looks more like vacuum-packed goobers. At £4.65 for 100g it must be celebrity goobers. Every time I have visitors from Amsterdam I have to ask them to bring me some real tempeh. Thanks to Holland's past colonial connections, even local chain supermarkets carry it there. Your best bet would be be asking around in your local Indonesian restaurants where they get hold of their tempeh. Or you can make it yourself from beans and tempeh starter available to order online.
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