Friday, 6 April 2012

All Wrapped Up In A Hawker's Favourite - Otak Otak (Grilled Spicy Fish Paste in Banana Leaves)

Otak Otak, so good that they named it twice. Okay, so this may not have the presence of New York but that would be completely ridiculous, having to munch through an otak otak the size of a city. This is not a 'monster munchies' show. Although the thought of cranking it up to hundred times its size would be amazing. Imagine that! Just a subtle hint for Matt Dawson and the producer of the cookery series.

The making of this dish happened by pure accident. I have recently managed to acquires a big packet of banana leaves from a recent shopping trip to Chinatown. It was one of those 'I'll grab this now and I'm sure I will use it for something later.' moment. Along with this I have also 'grabbed' some pandan leaves, Kacang botol (wing beans) and petai - don't know if there's an English name for this, we called it smelly beans - which still need to be cooked. Not sure if they will be any good for any of my meal over Easter. Roast leg of lamb with petai stuffing perhaps or how about a pandan-infused gravy? Uhm.... I guess not!

Anyway, so I decided to utilise the abundance of banana leaves that I have and made this lovely dish which originated from Singapore and Malaysia. Otak otak is made using fish, normally mackerel as it needed a strong oily fish in order to stand up to the fragrant of the spices. The fish is blended with all the herbs and spices to a paste and then wrapped up in banana leaves and grilled. I remember having this frequently when I was young either as a side to mee goreng - malay stir-fried noodles ; in between slices of butter bread as a quick snack or in Malaysia, where I would cycle to the local restaurant/shop in the kampong and have this with Nasi Lemak - a coconut rice dish - for breakfast.

Barbecue is obviously the best way to cook this dish due to the charred flavour it impart. However, this is equally delicious cooked in a conventional oven. As for whether to serve it with rice or crusty bread, it's entirely up to you.

Ingredient: (makes 8-10)

1 kg fresh mackerel, clean, skinned and fillet (it should yields about 550-600g)
200ml coconut milk
2 free-range eggs
1tsp sugar
2 tsp salt

8-10 pieces of banana leaves, pre-cut into 15cmx25cm
20 toothpicks

For the rempah:
1 medium onion
2 tsp ground turmeric
2 tbsp ground coriander
6 candlenuts or macademia nuts
10 dried red chillies
2 fresh large red chillies
2 stalk lemongrass
2cm length of fresh galangal
3 kaffir lime leaf (substitute this with 2 tsp lime zest if not available)
1 tbsp shrimp paste/belacan, toasted in a dry pan or in a hot oven


Place all the ingredients for the rempah into a food processor and blitz to a paste. Tip the paste into a large bowl.
Cut the mackerel fillet into large pieces and blitz in the food processor into a smooth paste. Add the minced fish to rempah/spice paste and mix well to combine.
Add the eggs, coconut milk, sugar and salt and mix well.
Blanch the banana leaves in boiling water to soften them before using.
Lay the banana leaves onto a work surface, longer length across. Place 1-2 tablespoon of the fish paste in the middle of the banana leaf and spread evenly across into a rough 1/2 cm thickness. Fold the bottom third and then the top third over the paste to enclose(see picture below). Fold the ends and then  secure them by weaving through the leaf layers with a toothpicks.
Cooked the parcels over a hot barbecue for 5 minutes on each side or alternatively, preheat an oven to 190ºC and cooked 10 minutes, turning halfway through.
Otak Otak (Grilled Spicy Fish Paste in Banana Leaves)


  1. haha sounds like me, I often get carried away in Chinatown. Oh gosh I miss otak otak, it's a must-have for me with nasi lemak, or when I go have katong laksa (they always have some at the side), or for midnight suppers (they also almost always have it near the satay stalls). You have some jumbo otak otak I must say, haha very generous! 

  2. Oh yes! Katong Laksa...I've forgotten about those. As for the size of these, well, they are for my consumption after all and really can't see myself constantly unwrapping each ones as I go along...too lazy :)

  3. Mackerel is one of my favourite fish and I am always looking for new ways to cook it.  I will definitely be trying this recipe.  :-)

  4. I love mackerel too, hope you'll enjoy this one :)



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