Babi kecap: Indonesian sweet soy pork stew

Babi kecap, a classic Chinese Indonesian stew of pork braised in sweet soy.

I am so enamoured of this babi kecap, a classic Chinese Indonesian stew of pork braised in kecap manis (sweet soy sauce). I love the punch of belacan (shrimp paste) that fades into the background but gives it a heady, umami kick. Toasting the belacan wrapped in an aluminium packet and tossed into a frying pan is fast becoming a late night ritual. I act on other parts of the babi kecap recipe as I wait for the heat from the pan to help release the shrimp paste’s unique, intense ocean bouquet. It always reminds me of the time we spent an afternoon watching a family in Penang make blocks of belacan. The best belacan releases an appetising scent of fresh shrimp and sea salty air.

My version of this dish is only mildly spicy because that’s what my family prefers, but you can easily double the number of chillies. I really enjoy the vivacity of the freshly made rempah. And since it calls for ingredients that are common to most Southeast Asia homes, it isn’t too much of a stretch to make. Especially when we make the compromise of using a food processor rather than a traditional batu lesung (a granite mortar and pestle). A touch of calamansi juice gives it a deliciously elusive acidity. And a good kecap manis (I like Bango) holds it all together.

I specify Canadian pork collar or neck only because it’s the tastiest stewing pork I can find. Choose what’s best from the selection available to you. You just want a cut that benefits from braising. If the fat doesn’t put you off, I like pork belly in this too. I’ve also tried preparing it with chicken thighs. I recommend removing the cooked chicken once it is tender, and leaving the sauce to simmer and reduce for another 90 minutes before returning the chicken to it. This ensures that the chicken remains tender while giving the sauce time to develop flavour.

I’ve taken to squirreling packets of this bulk-braised stew in the freezer because I find it so comforting after a long day. It’s the perfect one bowl meal with just steamed rice and cucumber slices. But better yet, have it as we did to welcome dear friends home to Singapore–with sambal tomat, sambal telur, sayur lodeh and generous helpings of brown rice.

About Su-Lyn Tan

Su-Lyn is Aun's better half and for many years, the secret Editor behind this blog known to readers simply as S. Su-Lyn is an obsessive cook and critical eater whose two favourite pastimes are spending time with her three kids and spending time in the kitchen. She looks forward to combining the two in the years to come.