When was the last time you made bagoong alamang from scratch? Never, is the likely answer of the vast majority of readers of this blog. I certainly had never thought to make it myself, except that I realized we used a lot of bagoong over the years, and “wouldn’t it be nice to know how it was made”? Such a fundamental building block of Philippine cuisine (and other Asian cuisines), shrimp or krill paste is right up there with superb locally made vinegar and fish sauce as essential flavors. Few people realize that in Ancient Rome, they used a seasoning probably similar to patis or fish sauce, called garum, and made from fermenting/rotting fish. That’s how long and esteemed the history of small fish/crustaceans mixed with salt and allowed to get smelly and flavorful really is… :)
Making bagoong alamang was dead simple. Start with a kilo of fresh alamang, or tiny little shrimp or in some cases krill. Add roughly 300 grams of good, NOT iodized sea salt, mix it all up with your hands, and put it in a bottle and let it sit in the fridge for 2-3 weeks before using. That’s it.
Of course this is the modern way to do it. Purists would have it ferment in vats, hopefully covered with nets to ward off flies and insects, rather than in the fridge. The non-refrigerated version builds a slightly different and probably better flavor profile, but I wasn’t keen on experimenting on the “warm” version unless I was there to check up on the progress of the fermentation/rotting myself.
Most folks these days are used to the brightly colored or at least red bagoong, a result of food coloring. In fact, a specific kind of red food coloring, the hue names “strawberry red”. I didn’t want to add food coloring to our first batch, and actually, after having cooked the results a few weeks later, I am not sure food coloring is really essential at all.
The bagoong was placed in the back of a fridge and “cured” for roughly 3 weeks. It was extremely salty and you actually need to give whatever portion you are about to cook a quick rinse and squeeze to extract some of the saltiness. But overall, this was a VERY SIMPLE thing to make, and we had enough stocked to make several dishes in the weeks ahead.