When life gives you daun kaduk, make otak. No one should settle for lemons when you have otak. Ever.
My gastronomic trip to Penang last week left me inspired to get a little work done in the kitchen. So when my grand-aunt presented me some of these beautifully grown leaves from her neighbour’s garden, I had to do something about them, especially on a rainy night when your friends are out clubbing while you only have an option of domesticating yourself at home because you have work the next morning. And there was no other way to go than the classic otak.
Otak was something I loved as a child. My tongue would brave the biting spice that tingled on my taste buds in a painful but extremely satisfying way. I didn’t need porridge or rice, I would eat packets of it on its own. Mine turned less pudding-like because I didn’t have enough coconut milk. But for record’s sake, I’m jotting down my best variation to date.
You will need:
600g yellow makarel fillets cut into thick slices / 3 eggs or 2 whole eggs & 2 whites / 200g thick coconut milk / 8 large kafir lime leaves, chiffonade / 2 tumeric leaves, chiffonade / 10 daun kaduk, chifonnade
Spices (grounded into a paste using a mortar and pestle, blenders not recommended):
A: 4-5 shallots / 5 cloves of garlic / 3cm galangal / 2-3 stalks lemongrass / 0.5 tbsp tumeric powder
B: 1 red chili padi / 1 large red chili / 15 dried chilies, soaked for at least 5hrs then drained and cleaned / 4 buah keras (candlenuts)
Seasoning: sea salt (~1 tsp) & pepper to taste / 1 tsp sugar / 1 tsp belachan (I used the thai variety) / 0.5 – 1 tbsp rice flour
Others: banana leaves, roasted over a flame to soften / additional daun kaduk to line the banana leaf packets
1. Begin by pounding all the spices. I recommend doing A and B separately but if you’re pressed for time you could do them all together. Set aside.
2. Combine seasonings with fish slices, eggs and all the shredded leaves. Mix lightly.
3. Start pouring in coconut milk, a little at a time. Stir the fish well, and it should start to break apart, forming a kind of pastey consistency with large chunks still intact. Stop once you have reached your desired consistency. The final product should not be too watery or too thick. You would have to eyeball at this stage.
4. Fold steamed banana leaves into a case. For newbies, refer to this video. Line the base of the cases with a couple of daun kauk. Spoon fish mixture onto it and fold up, securing with toothpicks.
5. Steam on high heat for about 6-8mins or until cooked. Remove from heat immediately. (*note: make sure the cases don’t touch water/get too wet from steaming. wrap cover of steamer with a kitchen towel)
Keeps for a few days in the fridge. To reheat, heat up steamer till hot and bubbly. Turn off the heat and place packets into heated steamer. Leave for a couple of minutes and remove.