Cambodian lime and black pepper sauce

I haven’t done much traveling, but since the kids were born we have managed to get to south east Asia a couple of times. Our first trip was to Siem Reap in Cambodia, the town outside the temple complexes of Angkor. I loved the Cambodian food – very delicate and fragrant and not too heavy on the “big” flavours of ginger, chili and garlic (not that there’s anything wrong with that!). I also have to admit that I’m crazy for that whole Asian / European colonial thing – all amazing architecture, dark furniture and lazy ceiling fans which parts of Siem Reap have in abundance. Drinking huge iced glasses of sweet lime  juice in the midday heat in this kind of environment is just my sort of decadence.

The big culinary revelation of Cambodia for me came about in an unexpected fashion. Pete and I had left Alex with our friend Andy (who was living in Cambodia at the time) and gone to ancient city of Angkor Thom. It started to pour with rain so we sheltered in a little food stall overlooking the surreal madness of the Bayon temple. Pete ordered a dish  described as “beef and potato” expecting it to be some sort of curry. It turned out to be good old steak and chips. The steak was from stringy Cambodian cows but had been marinated to soften and flavour it and the whole thing was served with a lime and black pepper sauce for dipping.

This sauce  is a sensation. I’ve made it a few ways but I like the method described by Wendy Hutton: you get an individual dipping dish for each person and  make a little pile of salt mixed with whole peppercorns pounded in a mortar and pestle and add a couple of wedges of lime. Each person can then squeeze the lime into the dish and  balance the sauce as they  please.  We did manage to get hold of some Cambodian pepper  which has a distinctively  mellow flavour that makes it much  more authentic but ordinary black pepper is fine. You could serve anything with it – fish cakes, tempeh, plain rice but this is how I like to eat it:

Cambodian steak and chips

The best thing about this is that you can make a perfectly ordinary steak and chips for the kids and serve the loc lac on the side for those who want it.

  • Steak – whatever cut, and cooked however you like and sliced thinly to dip in the sauce
  • Potatoes  for chips
  • Oil for deep frying
  • Finely  shredded iceberg lettuce
  • Finely sliced tomato
  • Finely  sliced cucumber
  • Asian herbs (optional)
  • Dollop of good quality mayonnaise
  • Lime sauce (lime, salt and black  pepper)  as described  above

Basically all you are doing is assembling the salad ingredients  on  a plate with a nice dollop of mayonnaise and then serving with the steak and chips. If you are deep frying the chips yourself, make sure you do the double fry. That is, fry them on a medium heat until just cooked through. Remove from the oil and drain on a paper towel. Pump the oil up to extra hot and cook the chips in batches until golden. Oven cooked chips are of course easier and healthier but not nearly so much fun. Serve the chips and the sliced steak with the salad with the bowls of loc lac sauce on the side for  dipping.

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5 Responses to Cambodian lime and black pepper sauce

  1. Pete says:

    This sauce was fantastic and is my favourite food memory from Cambodia. I still think of it often. In particular the very occasion near Bayon that Libby mentions.

  2. Miranda says:

    Your cooking rocks! If I were a guy ; – ) I’d marry you for your great cooking. Each time I’ve come over to your place, you’re meals have been outstanding. As for Peter, well … his cooking is um- er, well, not so rockin…

  3. Libby says:

    Clearly Pete’s never offered to make you one of his souffles,Miranda (but thanks for the compliment lovely lady).

  4. Pierre Mille says:

    Ambalmarek is the name of the sauce.
    Great restaurant as The Touich in Siam Reap do it by mixing Kampot pepper not only with salt but also some white sugar. When the line is pressed in the mix, the sugar gives the sauce a smooth texture and whilst cutting the top notes of the aroma provides wider body to the sauce…