Take a bite into delicious Indonesian lightly fried tofu and tempeh bacem, sweetened with coconut palm sugar and choked full of flavors from spices and herbs.
When I think of Yogyakarta, I can’t help but think of their delicious food, especially gudeg and bacem.
Bacem is tofu and tempeh simmered in coconut water, palm sugar, and spices. These are then deep-fried/pan-fried into one of the most flavor-packed tofu and tempeh dishes ever created.
With my recipe, you will be able to recreate this beloved Indonesian dish in your own kitchen. :)
What is bacem?
Bacem or baceman is a type of food preparation/cooking technique by slowly simmering food (especially tofu and tempeh) in salt, sugar, spices, and herbs in a covered pot until the simmering liquid is reduced and the seasonings are fully absorbed.
This cooking technique originates in Central Java, and nowadays very common throughout the entire island of Java, and to a lesser extent the whole Indonesian archipelago.
The most dominant taste once you take a bite from a typical bacem would be sweet, from the use of coconut palm sugar (Indonesian: gula Jawa), and the most dominant spice is usually coriander.
A more complete list of spices and herbs in a typical bacem include shallot, garlic, coriander, daun salam (Indonesian bay leaves), galangal, tamarind, salt, and most importantly, coconut palm sugar.
We usually use coconut water for the cooking liquid. But you can also use the same amount of water plus 2 tablespoons of desiccated coconut. Either sweetened or unsweetened will be fine.
The benefit of bacem
Bacem is essentially a two-step cooking process.
The first involves a slow simmer to let the spices fully absorbed in the meat/tofu/tempeh/etc.
And the second step involves deep-frying/pan-frying the said meat/tofu/tempeh/etc.
It may seem excessive, but this method of cooking has its advantage. In many households, food that has gone through the first step of cooking is stored in the fridge and later deep-fried in small batches as needed throughout the week or the following days.
Extremely useful for preparing a party, or for meal-prep, don’t you think?
Tofu, tempeh, and chicken
It used to be that bacem is only meant for tofu and tempeh, but nowadays, a lot of people also prepare chicken with this same cooking technique. I will stick to using only tofu and tempeh for this recipe.
For tofu, please use firm or extra firm tofu.
Indonesian tempeh is always made with 100% soybeans. You can find other varieties of tempeh in the United States, but if you want an authentic dish, please stick to using 100% soybeans tempeh. If you are feeling adventurous, feel free to prepare some homemade tempeh and turn them into bacem.
If you want to use chicken, we typically use one whole chicken, cut into about 8-12 pieces. For simplicity, you can also use about 8-12 chicken drumsticks, or about 4-6 chicken quarters.
Tahu Tempeh Bacem
- 3 cup (750 ml) coconut water (Indonesian: air kelapa) (Note 1)
- 2 Indonesian bay leaf (Indonesian: daun salam)
- 1 tablespoon tamarind juice (from 1 teaspoon tamarind paste + 1 tablespoon water, mixed, massaged, and strained)
- 1 block (450 gram, or 1 lb.) firm, or extra-firm tofu, cut into 8-10 pieces
- 450 gram (1 lb.) 100% soybean tempeh, cut into 8 triangular pieces
- Grind the following into spice paste
- 50 gram shallot
- 2 cloves garlic
- 2 inches galangal (Indonesian: lengkuas)
- 3 tablespoon coconut palm sugar (Indonesian: gula Jawa)
- 1 tablespoon coriander powder (Indonesian: ketumbar)
- 1 teaspoon salt
- Place coconut water, daun salam, tamarind juice, and the spice paste in a pot and bring to a boil.
- Reduce the heat to medium-low, add tofu and tempeh, cover with a lid, and simmer until all the liquid is gone and the spices are fully absorbed by the tofu and tempeh.
- Heat enough oil for deep frying, fry the tofu and tempeh until golden brown.
- (1) Or use 3 cups water + 2 tablespoons desiccated coconut.