Sambal oelek is a spicy Southeast Asian chili sauce often found in Indonesian cooking. The word sambal simply refers to sauce made with chili peppers which may include an array of secondary ingredients. The word oelek itself or ulek refer to the pestle and mortar traditionally used to grind this flavourful sambal.
There are many varieties of sambal oelek but the basic recipe includes red hot chili peppers, shallots, garlic, shrimp paste, salt, sugar and rice vinegar. It packs a fiery punch but you're getting more than just heat, but also delicious savouriness and acidity which makes this sauce an ideal shortcut to add to many other dishes, like soups and stir-fries.
Today, I'm using the chili sauce to flavour some chickpeas; and topping the chickpeas, pan-roasted chicken. Let's start with the chicken... I use skin-on, bone-in chicken thighs here because I prefer the dark meat; also, they are cheaper than breast meat, so what is not to like. The chicken is seared to golden crispiness on the outside and they'll continue to cook to tender perfection in the oven later with the chickpeas.
To achieve this golden crispiness, I have a couple of notes. One, the chicken has to be pat dry by simply using a kitchen towel before seasoning with salt and pepper. This will ensure maximum crispiness. And two, do it in batches. Over-crowding the pan, and you'll end up with braised chicken.
Now to the sambal oelek chickpeas. I use store-bought sambal that comes in a jar (my mother would not approve, but she doesn't have to know) which makes it easier. The recipe calls for a tablespoon of tomato paste. I suggest you get tomato paste that comes in a tube like a toothpaste which I find more efficient; rather than getting tomato paste that comes in a tin.
This is so quick and easy to make and it's oh-so-good. I was having lunch in front of the TV and had to pause my Netflix show to have my moment alone with the chicken and the chickpeas.
1 tablespoon olive oil
4 skin-on, bone-in chicken thighs
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 tin chickpeas, drained and rinsed
4 tablespoons sambal oelek
125 ml water
2 spring onions, green parts only, chopped
Lime wedges, for serving
Salt and black pepper, to taste
Heat olive oil in medium ovenproof skillet over medium-high heat. Pat the chicken thighs dry with kitchen towel and season with salt and black pepper. Working in two batches, cook until the chicken is browned, about 5 minutes per side, transfer to a plate and set aside.
Pour off the excess oil, leaving a tablespoon. Add onion and garlic and cook until softened, stirring often. In the meantime as well, preheat the oven to 220 C. Add tomato paste to the pan along with the chickpeas, sambal oelek and water. Let the mixture comes to a boil the simmer for ten minutes or so.
Nestle the chicken thighs on top of the chickpeas, skin side up and transfer to the oven. Roast until the chicken is cooked through. This will take around 20-25 minutes. Top with chopped spring onions and serve with cooked basmati rice and lime wedges for squeezing over.