Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Penang Steamed Otak (Steamed Fish Parcels)

Otak-Otak is a fish cake dish that is common in Malaysia as well as Singapore, Thailand and Indonesia. Although the dish itself is served in a number of countries in South East Asia, you could probably say that each country has evolved its own unique recipe.

The version I grew up eating is the Penang Steamed Otak. The Penang version which has Nyonya influence, is a steamed fish cake made from a mixture of eggs, fish fillet and a whole lot of herbs including serai (lemon grass), lengkuas (galangal), ginger, chillies, kaffir lime leaves and kaduk leaves. The fish paste is wrapped in banana leaf and steamed. The steaming method produces a dish that is fragrant upon opening the parcel, thoroughly delighting your sense of sight and smell. The fish cake itself is smooth, a custard/souffle like texture with chunks of fish in between. Totally delicious!

The style of wrapping otak-otak is also somewhat unique and immediately recognizable as Malaysian otak. Some would wrap it in a parcel shape and some is done up in a box-like shape. I choose the box-like shape for this particular recipe.

otah 2

Penang Steamed Otak
Recipe Adapted from "Meals from Asian Kitchens"


1.5kg fish fillet (eg. red snapper or threadfin)

To grind finely:

4 stalks (white part only) lemon grass (serai)
5cm piece ginger
7cm square piece shrimp paste (belacan)
6cm galangal (lengkuas)
10 fresh red chillies
25 white peppercorns
300g shallots
10 cloves garlic
3 1/2 Tbsp rice flour for thickening
2 coconuts, grated (can substitute with 200ml thick coconut cream)
5 large eggs
3 Tbsp oil
12 fragrant lime leaves (daun limau purut)
1 1/2 to 2 tsp salt
14 - 16 kadok leaves (Piper sarmentosum, pointed pepper leaves)
1 1/2 bundle of banana leaves


1) Cut the fish fillter into 1" slices

2) Squeeze the grated coconut without adding water for first milk.

3) Beat eggs. Shred lime leaves

4) Cut banana leaves into 16 pieces measuring 4" square and 16 pieces of 8" square. Wipe to clean the leaves and pass over a fire to soften them.

5) Fold up 2" of the edges of the larger piece and staple corners to make a box. Put one kadok leaf in the box. Repeat for remaining cut banana leaves.


1) Put ground ingredients into a large mixing bowl. Add oil, first coconut, beaten eggs, shredded lime leaves and salt. Mix well and add the fish fillet.

2) Place a larger piece of banana leaf on a deep plate. Put a smaller piece of banana leaf in the centre of the larger piece.

3) Place 1 ladlefulof mixed ingredients with 3 slices of fish into each box. repeat until all the banana leaf boxes are filled. (Alternatively place 1 ladleful of mixed ingredients with 3 slices of fish on a leaf and fold the two sides over each other. Secure the ends with toothpicks)

4) Steam the packages for 10 - 15 minutes. Serve immediately.

otah 1

otah 3


Noob Cook said...

I love otak of all kinds, yours look super good with the fresh big chunks of fish :)

Angie's Recipes said...

The steamed fish parcels look so pretty! Love the whole presentation.

Bakericious said...

I have a family who love otak, even my 6 yrs old daughter. Jo, your otak looks so salivating, somemore with fish chunks, yummy!

Kitchen Corner said...

How could I missed out this beautiful blog. I must be a slow and lousy blogger didn't realize here has got a full of nice food recipes. It's so nice to see you in person during the bloggers meeting. I'm not good in cooking but here you've a good blog for me to get some idea. Thanks!

Edith said...

Jo you are making me hungry now.

busygran said...

I like this - so full of fish meat unlike the commercially-made ones. This goes well with nasi lemak which is always one of the dishes I would have.

Sonia ~ Nasi Lemak Lover said...

nice picture and your otak look really delicious!

Passionate About Baking said...

Hi Jo,
I don't know which planet I had been! I've been missing out your blog for such a long time. It's such a gorgeous blog with your beautiful foods! Gee...
It's so nice to meet you on Sunday. You're such a wonderful lady to know. I love your thick rich curry chicken. Hope to meet up with you again. :)
Now, I'll have more reference for cooking!

Cooking Gallery said...

I think we call this dish in Indonesia 'Pepes', Otak-otak is something different there, it's fishcake grilled in banana leaves. Nevertheless your 'pepes/otak2' looks great :D!

Ju (The Little Teochew) said...

WAH! Looks really tantalising! I was just eating mackerel otak that I just bought. I have a weakness for otak. ;) I should really try making this. Thanks for showing us how, with those the gorgeous pics of yours. Looks straight out from a cookbook!

tigerfish said...

Real stuff! Look at those chunks of fish. Feel like making these again....:)

Small Small Baker said...

Oh yes, how can I miss such a nice blog. I just find my way here from the posts on the bloggers gathering. I'm linking you up and must learn how to cook and bake from you! :)

Anh said...

I don’t get to eat otak that often but this recipe looks incredibly delicious. Thanks for sharing!

petite nyonya said...

looks great!! i love otaks. have you tried the Muar version? also very good.

Pei-Lin said...

Jo, your steamed otak looks delectable! Yea, agree with Joslynn (Petite Nyonya), have you tried Muar version? I think I grew up more with that rather than the Penang one.

Come to think of it, how I wish I can spend more time in the kitchen nowadays. But with a full-time day job, no way. =(

Hey, I haven't told you probably. I lugged back quite a hoard of Valrhona from Kitchen Capers the other day with Shirley. Should be able to last me through next year. LOL! Tell you what, I've made it to a point to visit SG bloggers once a year. Promised! But when you come back to KL for a visit, say during CNY, buzz me! (You have my celly no. right?) I think a bunch of Malaysian bloggers, including those coming back from overseas areas, are gonna meet up sometime around CNY. Bee Bee may join us, like this year's CNY, if she happens to be in town.

Alright, catch up with you later! Thank you so much for being so kind and for the offer. I'm not shy lar ... just paiseh ... *Blushing*

pigpigscorner said...

Looks and sounds so yum! Love otak-otak, so good with rice! I actually like those flat ones sold in pasar malam, made with fish paste I think.

Anonymous said...

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