Egg nested fish cakes or we call it pempek or empek empek in Indonesia is a popular street food. Just like it’s called, whole hard-boiled egg is nested inside a fish cake and then fried and drenched in spicy sweet sauce. They can also be made without the egg inside. Either way, I love them.
“Guess how many Indonesian restaurant in New York City” hubby asked. “Err…10? at least?” I said.
“ONE. Only ONE”. he replied. What the fork ?? Are you for real ? So, that was our conversation over the phone again because he was away on a business trip in NYC. Seriously though, I find it a bit hard to believe that there is only one Indonesian restaurant in NYC, considering how multicultural that city is. But at the same time, I probably shouldn’t be shocked with that piece of fact. Despite of being number 4 as one of the most populated country in the world, Indonesia cultures and needless to say cuisines, are not very well known here in the U.S. Kinda sad ! It is so culture rich and so many beautiful islands and most tourists only know Bali. In fact, some people think Bali IS Indonesia. Well, it is, it’s only a tiny part of the whole country.
I grew up in Sumatra Island, but I know there are still some food that I haven’t tried before. I moved to Jakarta, the capital city of Indonesia when I was 18. Lived there for about a year. It’s a very short while. I had always wanted to be an architect since I was 5 years old and so I went to the University there to study Architecture. During my one year in Jakarta, I had tried so many wonderful food and this empek empek kapal selam or direct translation into English is submarine egg nested fish cakes is one of my favorites. The place where I stayed sold a really good empek empek Palembang. Palembang is one of the cities in Indonesia. This empek empek is known to be originated from there. My favorite empek empek is the submarine one. It is shaped like a submarine with hard-boiled egg nested inside the fish cake 😉 The empek empek is usually boiled first and then deep-fried. It will then be sliced into bite size and served with lightly spicy, sweet and tangy sauce drizzle on top of it. I pan-fried mine instead and they still turned out pretty good.
I’ve been thinking about making this empek empek for a while and finally I got a chance to. It sure brought up sweet memories of that one year I stayed in Jakarta. I felt really homesick too during that time being away from home for the very first time in my life. I’m so grateful that I have so many friends from the same hometown stayed at the same place as I did. They made me feel so much better and less homesick. Every time I eat this empek empek kapal selam, I can’t help but to journey back to that memory lane 🙂
Pempek Kapal Selam (Indonesian Fried Fish Cake)
- 21 oz boneless skinless mackerel fish 600 grams, or any white fish if you must substitute
- 3 cloves garlic cloves peeled
- 1 Tbsp of cooking oil
- 1 tsp of salt
- 1 tsp of white pepper powder
- 4 Tbsp tapioca flour
- 4 hard-boiled eggs
- 1 large bowl of water chilled in the freezer
- 1/4 cup cooking oil for pan-frying
- 1 small cucumber seeded and diced
- 2 cups water
- 2 cloves garlic peeled and smashed
- 10 oz brown sugar
- 2 red chili more if you like it spicier
- 2 Tbsp vinegar
- Salt to taste
Preparing the dipping sauce:
Place all the ingredients for dipping sauce in a small saucepan and let it cook until the sugar has dissolved. Have a taste and it should be sweet, lightly spicy and savory (more at the sweet side). Remove the garlic and chili. Set aside to serve with the fish cakes later
Making the fish cakes:
Roughly cut the fish into chunks. Freeze them in the freezer for about 40 minutes. They should be partially frozen. Place them in a food processor and process into a paste. Add in garlic, oil, salt and pepper. Process again into a smooth mixture
Remove from the food processor into a large bowl. Wet your two hands and add in the tapioca flour and use your wet hands to mix in the flour. Next, you may need to wet your hands again. Gather the fish paste and throw it against the side of the bowl. Do this until the fish paste feels "springy". You may need to re-wet your hand along the way while doing this
Divide the dough into 4 equal parts. Use your wet hands to shape into a ball and then flatten with your palm. Place one hard-boiled egg in the middle of the fish paste and then use your hand to wrap the fish paste around it. Dip your hands in water again to help smooth the surface. Gently place this into a large bowl of ice water. Repeat until you get 4 submarine fish cakes. Place the bowl along with the submarine fish cakes into the freezer for another 30 minutes
Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Remove the fish cakes from freezer. Gently place the fish cakes into the boiling water and let them cook until they float to the top. Once they float to the top, I let them cook for another 5 minutes because these are large fish cakes and I want to make sure the inside is cooked through. Remove with slotted spoon into a platter
Preheat about 1/4 cup of cooking oil in a non-stick skillet. Place the boiled fish cakes on the pan and let it cook until golden brown. Use a spoon to help you turn the fish cakes around until all sides are golden brown. Remove from heat and place on absorbent paper towel. Repeat with the rest of the fish cakes
When ready to serve:
Cut each empek empek into 3-4 pieces. Top with some diced cucumber and spoon the sauce over and serve immediately
This very same recipe can be used to make traditional fish balls too. Just omit the hard-boiled eggs, cucumber, and dipping sauce