1Rinse the dried shrimps under running water, rubbing them with your hands. Let drain in a colander.
2Using a pair of kitchen shears,cut the chillies in half lengthwise and remove the seeds. Place in a bowl and cover with boiling water. Let sit for 15 minutes, then drain.
3Peel the shallots and cut into rough chunks. Slice off the root end of the lemongrass, peel off and discard the first layer. Slice thinly crosswise into rounds.
4Place the dried chillies, shallots,lemongrass, candlenuts and belacan in a food processor. Process until you get a fine paste, stopping the machine four to five times to scrape down the sides. Spoon the spice paste or rempah into a large bowl.
5Pulse the dried shrimps in the food processor as finely or coarsely as you like. Do this in at least two batches, or more if you are using a small processor.
6Heat the oil in a large wok over medium heat. When wisps of smoke rise from the oil, add the rempah, give it a quick stir and turn heat down to medium low. Cook for 30 minutes, stirring constantly, or until the oil separates from the spice mixture. It is important to keep the mixture moving so that it cooks evenly and thoroughly.
7After 30 minutes, tear the kaffir lime leaves (if using) from the edge to the stem (above). Add them to the spice mixture along with the dried shrimps. Mix all the ingredients well into the spice paste and continue to fry over medium-low heat for another 30 minutes, keeping the mixture moving.
8Remove and discard the kaffir lime leaves (if you have used them). Add the sugar, mix well and fry for another 10 minutes. Scoop out into a large bowl, let cool completely and spoon into jars. Refrigerate and use up within two weeks.
Text: Tan Hsueh Yun/ Straits Times Additional Reporting: Atika Lim
Photos: Straits Times