Otak otak was my favorite snacks from childhood. I remember how I always chose otak otak at the bakery shop when my dad asked what we wanted. My dad was a huge bread person. He loved bread, cakes, and pretty much anything sweet, which often explained our frequent visits to bakery shops around the town. At some point he even considered franchising a bakery shop.
So, what is otak otak ? Otak means brain in Indonesian language. Yes, the brain that is inside mine and your head. Fret not, it is not made from any brain matter however. The reason why it is called that because of how it resembles the brain in certain way, white and soft. Indonesian otak otak is made of fish along with other spices processed into a paste and usually whitish in color. This fish paste is then wrapped in banana leaves and then steamed and grilled on charcoal grill, hence its translation: grilled fish cake in banana leaves.
Otak otak can be found in other parts of Southeast Asia like Malaysia and Singapore with some variations, usually brown reddish in color. It is also pretty similiar to Thai steamed fish cake / Ha mok pla too. I love them all. Otak otak can be eaten on its own or serve with nasi lemak / coconut milk rice. I haven’t had this in ages, and when I smelled the banana leaves being charred in grill…oh my goodness!!!! That’s all I can say!
- 1½ lbs boneless skinless mackerel fillets (or you can use white fish fillets like snappers) – roughly chopped
- 3 cloves garlic (peeled and sliced)
- 4 stalks of spring onion (roughly chopped)
- 15 shallots (peeled)
- ½ cup of coconut cream
- Juice of 1 lime
- 3 eggs
- 1 tsp of salt
- ½ tsp of white pepper powder
- 10 pieces (and few extra in case some of them has some tear) of 6 x 6-inch square of banana leaves (or use aluminum foil if you can’t find banana leaves)
- Put all the ingredients in a food processor (except for the banana leaves) and process into a smooth paste
- Prepare your steamer by bringing the water to boil. Wipe both sides of banana leaves cleaned with damp towel. Place about 3-4 heaped tablespoon of the fish paste along the center of the leaves. Fold the leaf near your side over and flip the other sides over it and then secure both ends with tooth picks. Continue until you are finish with the rest of the fish cakes
- Place the fish cakes in the steamer (you may need to do this in batches) and steam for 15 minutes. Remove from the steamer and let them cool down. You can prepare up to one day ahead to this point
- When ready to serve, preheat the grill and place the steamed fish cakes on the grill and grill until you char the leaves, about 5 minutes or so on each side. Alternatively, you can use a broiler. Set it to high and broil for about 5 minutes on each side or you can also use a grill pan or regular pan. Preheat them without any oil and place the otak otak (in batches) on the pan, slightly press on them with spatula and grill until you char the leaves. Serve immediately still wrapped in banana leaves