Friday, March 1, 2013

Muar Otak (麻坡乌挞) - (MFF-Johor) #1

Otak-otak (aka Otah or Otar in Singapore) is a fish cake well known in Johor, particularly in Muar. This fish cake is basically made by mixing fish paste with mixture of spices, shallot, garlic and coconut milk. And then, the mixture is wrapped in coconut leaves or banana leaf. Usually grilling or steaming method is used.

Although otak is traditionally made with fish meat, crab meat, prawn meat, cuttlefish or even fish head is used in modern versions of otak. There are different forms of otak originating from different regions. Nyonya version's otak from Melaka and Penang, they wrapped their otak in parcel, like a piece of kuih, and of course, there's a difference in the spices they use too. Otak from Muar is wrapped up as a thin slice using coconut leaf, some uses banana leaf, and then grilled over charcoal fire. There are commercialized version too, we see frozen otak selling in blocks, usually can be easily spotted at our neighborhood super-mart too. These frozen one's are meant for steaming.

I did this recipe twice.

For the 1st time, I prepared all my ingredients, but realized that my blender spoilt.  Damn it! But I still continue. Because I've got really nice Spanish Mackerel at that time. And so, I just go ahead to do whatever I can. I use knife to mince the fish meat into paste instead. Yes! tiring! And the result might not be that good. Oh well, never try, never know. In the end otak taste good, but texture is ROUGH, FIRM AND DRY!!!

Taste wise, pass. Texture... FAIL!!!

For the 2nd time, it's much better with my new bought blender. I get to blend my fish meat into paste and I slightly modified the ingredients to make it more moist. Better texture and softer meat. So, the recipe that I stated here is my 2nd attempt modified recipe. It may not be the best otak, but my family like them! :D

The usual way of making otak is to wrap em' in coconut leaves, and then grilling it over an open flame. But hello?! I'm staying in Singapore. Where to get coconut leaves??!! No choice. I settled down with banana leaves instead, and I'm happy with it.

This recipe makes about 12 pcs otak, weight about 100g each.

(Recipe Source : Y3K Free Recipe with modification) 

450g Fish meat from Spanish Mackerel or Ikan Tenggiri
250ml Coconut Milk
100ml Water (or more)... However, this is optional.

For Seasoning : 
3 tbsp Corn Flour
3 tbsp Curry Powder

1½ tsp Turmeric Powder
1½ tsp Chilli Powder
3 tbsp Blended Chilli Paste (shop-bought chilli paste is fine)

2 tsp Salt
 tsp Sugar
tsp Minced Garlic
tsp Minced Shallot

For Wrapping : 
If you are using banana leaves : Grab a bunch of banana leaves from the wet market. Cost about S$1.50.
If you are using coconut leaves : About 40 to 50 finds of coconut leaves (est. 8" in length), and staples.

  1. Prepare your banana leaves - Wilt the banana leaves by either steam them, blanch them or over open fire. I did it open fire. And then, trim it into your preferred size. Mine is about 6" x 10" big. 
  2. Debone fish. Use a spoon, scrape the fish meat out. I did this a day in advance. Freeze it. The day after, thaw it before use. Separate my work load. 
  3. Set aside 150g of fish meat. Place the remaining 300g fish meat into a food processor (I used blender. So, my work is tougher). Add in coconut milk. Blend it into a smooth paste. 
  4. Scrape the fish paste mixture into a big bowl, add in all the seasoning. Mix until everything is incorporated. And then, add in the 150g fish meat chunk.
  5. If you find the fish paste too dry (which I think you will), this is the time you add 100g water. Mix again. If you are not confident about the texture, put a dollop of  fish paste on a frying pan, pan-fry it. Give the texture a try. If the otak is soft enough to your liking when it is cooked, then, proceed to wrap your otak paste with banana leaves. If you want your otak to have softer texture, add more water, mix, pan-fry it, try again. Until you achieve your preferred soft texture.  
  6. Wrap otak paste using prepared banana leaves. I wrap mine at about 100g otak paste each. How big you want your otak to be? It's up to you.
  7. Steam the wrapped otak under high flame. My otak is bigger and thicker, hence, I steam it for 5 mins, and then grill it to perfection. The 5 mins steaming is to set it's shape too.  
  8. Grill the otak over charcoal fire until slightly charred. Serve hot. 
  9. If you are not able to finish all the grilled otak, wrap them well and keep it in the freezer. When you want to eat again, just re-steam it.
Note : 
  1. Get fish monger to debone the fish for you. Like that, it save your trouble from doing it yourself.
  2. Fresh fish meat tends to be more bouncy, and gives otak firmer texture. I realized this for the 1st attempt. For the 2nd attempt, I scrape the fish meat out, and freeze the fish meat for next day use. Like that, fish meat will be less bouncy and otak will have less firm texture.
  3. Set aside 150g fish meat chunks and add them into the fish paste later. This is because I want my otak to have some chunky bite. Unfortunately, mine doesn't looks obvious in my photo. I think my fish chunks not big enough. Sigh!
  4. If you can't setup charcoal fire at home but still want to grill it, use oven. Bake it at 200 degree till it achieve the grilling result you want. 
  5. If you find it too troublesome to do both steaming and grilling like me, you could just steam it and skip the grilling part. Although I grilling makes significant difference in overall fragrance.
Otak can be eaten as a snack or with bread or rice as part of a meal. Once otak is cooked, it can be wrapped nicely and freeze it for next time. I'm totally not worried for making it in a big batch. So, I buy big fish and make bigger batch. So, I got myself a beautiful and big Spanish mackerel from Tekka Market :)

Incase you gonna debone the fish yourself...

Step 4 : Mix fish paste and seasoning together

Step 6 : Wrap otak paste using prepared banana leaves.

Step 7 : Steam the wrapped otak under high flame for 5mins to set it's shape.

Step 8 : Grill the otak over charcoal fire until slightly charred

This photo is from my 1st attempt. Bigger parcel. For the 2nd time, I make it smaller. You don't have to worry that the banana leaves all burnt. This is exactly what we wanna achieve.

And tada!!!! Must eat it while it's hot! :D

I don't know about you. But I like my otak to have abit of charred at the side. The charcoal grilled taste is just awesome!

This version of otak is simple enough for people like us to make it at home. I hope you like it!


  1. Looks good, Annie! I think I prefer the grilled ones and with the charring. This one a lot of work lah. Myself lazy so I will just admire your otak-otak and dream :)

    1. Phong Hong, lazy this kind of thing... Very susah to describe. LOL!!!

  2. Thanks to your wonderful detailed post, my first attempt was a success!!

    The only extra step i did was to fry the curry powder with the garlic and onion to get rid of the raw smell.

    Once again a big.thanks!

  3. Add eggs so that it is not too dry and adding thin and finely sliced limau purut ( Kaffir lime leaves) would be good too. Try using Thai red curry paste instead of curry powder.

  4. Muar Version was never in banana or coconut leaves.... only in atap leaves