Food for Thought: Making a Street Food Staple at Home
Most street food found in Jakarta comes from classic Betawi and Javanese cuisine. But we can also find many different regional dishes as well, including some from peranakan or nonya cuisine, a mixture of Malay and Chinese cuisine.
One of the more common street foods within peranakan cuisine is otak-otak, a spicy minced fish wrapped in banana leaves. It is normally served with peanut and rice vinegar sauce. Otak-otak has an interesting and complex flavor of mixed spices and herbs (galangal, turmeric, coriander, lemon grass and chilies) and a touch of coconut milk and shrimp paste.
For this week’s recipe, I have a simple cooking method to transform the unattractive otak-otak into something special. Otak-otak is normally served at room temperature, but it is delicious served warm.
Otak-otak with cucumber and carrots
I like to serve the otak-otak in a modern way as part of a salad dish. To simplify the otak-otak, I don’t cook it in a banana leaf, as is the norm. Instead I put the mixture into small ramekins to make individual fish cakes and cook them in the oven. Serves 6.
250 grams white snapper fillet, red snapper or any white fish fillet; 2 tablespoons coconut cream; 1 egg; salt and black pepper to season.
For the paste: 5 centimeters galangal; 5 centimeters turmeric; 2 lemon grass stalks chopped finely (discard the outer green layer, use white part only); 10 shallots, peeled; 3 candlenuts; 5 large dried red chilies, soaked in hot water until soft; 1/2 teaspoon roasted shrimp paste (optional); 1 tablespoon coriander seeds, roasted and ground; 1/2 teaspoon sugar; 2 tablespoons vegetable oil.
For the salad: 2 medium cucumbers, peeled and sliced thinly; 3 medium carrots, peeled and grated; a small bunch of kemangi , or local basil, using leaves only.
For the peanut sauce: 100 grams of raw peanuts, roasted on a dry frying pan in low heat; 2 or 3 large red dried chilies, soaked in hot water; 1/2 clove of garlic; 100 milliliters water; 2 to 3 tablespoons white wine vinegar or apple cider vinegar; 1/4 teaspoon sugar; salt to taste.
1. To make the fish cake: grind all the paste ingredients finely. Set aside.
2. Chop the fish into small cubes and put in the food processor and process until the mixture has become fine in texture.
3. Heat a frying pan and add 2 tablespoon of vegetable oil. Add the paste and cook for 4-5 minutes or until fragrant. Transfer the mixture to a plate to cool.
4. Pre-heat the oven to 180 degrees Celsius.
5. Add the paste mixture into the food processor. Add an egg and the coconut cream. Season with salt and black pepper and process the mixture finely.
6. Smear the inside of the ramekins with vegetable oil. Divide the mixture into six portions and put into 7-centimenter ramekins. Then place the ramekins on a baking tray and cook in the oven for 20-25 minutes.
7. While the otak-otak is in the oven, prepare the sauce by grinding the peanuts and mixing well with the rest of the ingredients. The texture of the sauce should be creamy, not too thick or too runny. Season with salt if necessary.
8. To serve: Place the grated carrots in the middle of six serving plates. Place the sliced cucumber around the carrots. Add the peanut sauce and some basil leaves. Lastly, place the fish cake on the top. Serve immediately.