Thursday, September 12, 2013

Otak Otak Recipe (Malaysian Spicy Fish Paste)

Otak Otak (or Malaysian Spicy Fish Paste) is one of those really classic Malaysian dishes that I've absolutely loved growing up yet almost completely forgotten about. 

It's really delicious but for some reason you don't see anymore in most coffee shops, hawker centres or even households in Malaysia anymore, it's weird. You'll actually have better luck eating this in Singapore as a lot of places still sell them around town.

As chummy as it may sound, but Otak Otak really does strike a chord in me for some reason. I haven't had too many memories of them growing up, but they've all been very good. 

See, my Mum was a highly driven and successful career woman (which has inspired me immensely to have great career aspirations of my own) growing up. She works so hard but was able to balance family life very well. All the core values in life that I carry (such as being hardworking and kind to people), I have learned from her. I still remember that there were several rare occasions where she'd surprise us at home with some Otak Otak that she'd buy back for dinner from the shops. We'd share it together with freshly steamed rice almost immediately in our kitchen benchtop (instead of waiting to eat outside at the dining table). Good times...

Compared to most Malaysians, I'd say that my tolerance towards spicy food is slightly below average. In fact, I personally think that Otak Otak IS meant to be spicier than what you're normally used to. It just tastes so good because it's slightly beyond my limit, so I retreat by eating a large mouthful of rice to recover. Then, I repeat by experiencing that spicy kick again, before retreating to the rice once again. 

This Otak Otak recipe is great and I'd go even further to say it's better than the ones I've had growing up. Mainly because it has a much more prominent fragrance due to the abundance of fresh ingredients. Besides that, the fish always comes out moist and soft with little nibbles of prawn pieces, just the way I like it.  

Although, the only tiny gripe I have is that I can't get it to achieve the colour I want. I like my Otak Otak to be deep red as opposed to yellow, like how mine turned out. I've made this recipe 3 times by experimenting with various quantities of fresh and dried chillies, but it still turned out more yellow than I'd like. I'm starting to suspect that most commercial Otak Otak actually contains red colouring because every single homemade Otak Otak recipe I've found online seems to be as yellow as mine too. Anyway, no matter because the flavour really is delicious.

To adjust the level of spiciness to your liking, just use a combination of big and small dried chillies. More small dried chillies if you like yours spicier. 

I actually think that there's no difference in grilling it in the oven wrapped in banana leaves or steaming the mixture straight from a plate. Grilling doesn't actually add any extra flavour/fragrance and because it's wrapped tight, the fish paste is still steamed till soft and moist inside.

BUT, wrapping it in banana leaves is always way more fun to serve at parties as it's individually portioned. Which was what I did when I made a big batch of this for April's baby shower a few months ago.

Would definitely recommend people making this when they've got a party to go to or host. Something different yet delicious.

Otak Otak Recipe (Malaysian Spicy Fish Paste)
(adapted from this recipe by Beyond The Plate)


450g trevalley fillets
1 pinch of salt
1 inch piece of fresh galangal (cubed)
1 tbsp ground turmeric
2 stalks lemongrass (white part only, sliced)
25 grams dried chillies (soaked in hot water, drained)
250g shallots (roughly chopped)
12g belacan
1 tbsp ground coriander
1 tbsp sugar
1/4 tsp salt
1 cup diced prawns
150ml coconut milk
2 large eggs (lightly beaten)
6 kaffir lime leaves (sliced thinly)
6 tbsp vegetable oil
Banana leaves (cut to 5 by 8 inch strips)


Preparing the fish paste

1. Using a food processor/blender, blitz the fish with a pinch of salt until you get a thick paste (mine takes 30 seconds). Scoop out minced fish and set aside in a large bowl.

2. In the same food processor/blender, blitz the galangal, turmeric powder, lemongrass, chillies, shallots and belacan until you get a thick paste. 

3. Heat up a pan and add 4 tbsp of oil. Add the blended chilli paste from your food processor, coriander powder, sugar, salt and fry for about 10 minutes until fragrant, stirring continuously. Set aside to cool.

4. Add the diced prawns, coconut milk, eggs, kaffir lime leaves, blended chilli paste to the fish paste. Mix until well combined.

Assembling the Otak Otak

1. Preheat oven to 230°C. Leaving 2 inches of space from the top/bottom, brush the middle section of the banana leaves with vegetable oil. 

2. Add 2 tbsp of fish paste and spread evenly with 2 inches from the top/bottom, 1 inch from the sides.

3. Fold the sides of the banana leaf.

4. Using a toothpick, weave it through the banana leaf at the top and bottom until tightly secured. Repeat until all fish paste has been prepared.

5. Place a single layer of Otak Otak on a baking tray and grill in the top rack of the oven for 10 - 12 minutes.

Alternatively: You could just place the fish paste in a deep dish and steam for 20 minutes

6. Serve hot with warm rice or bread.

My big batch of Otak Otak for April's potluck.

Snippets of the potluck via my Instagram: @winceeee

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Chiba, Moonee Ponds

Awesome Sashimi Boat!!!

Seriously fantastic soft shell crab roll -- best in town!

Don't you love this full height - 2 storey - glazed entrance? I know I do.

Modern yet sophisticated interior

Agedashi Tofu - $8.50
Fried bean curd served in light soya and ginger sauce topped with bonito flakes

Gyu Niki Maki - $11.00
Beef rolls stuffed with vegetables in a wine & soya sauce

This is amazing -- one of my favourite dishes there! All in the charred goodness and fragrant sauce

Nasu Dengaku - $9.00
Fried eggplant with sweet miso paste

One of the better ones for sure

Chiba Special for 2 - $50.00
Combination of sushi, sashimi and seaweed rice rolls

Portion for 2? More like 4 or 5! This amazing array of sushi was incredible in sight as it was in taste and freshness. Very generous portions and value for money. 

This sashimi boat is always a highlight of our meals here and you can't come here without ordering this! Seriously.

Soft Shel Crab Rolls - $15.00
Soft shell crab in light batter, sushi rice, avocado, soy bean sheet, chilli mayonnaise

Another specialty of Chiba that everyone MUST order when they come! This soft shell crab roll is honestly the best in town. The combination of the ultra crisp crab with the creaminess of the avocado against the spicy mayo is just an absolute winner. 

We loved this so much we ordered 2 because I knew it wasn't going to be enough for 5 of us.

Seafood Bento - $23.50
Japanese meal box served with sashimi, tempura, grilled eel, crumbed oysters, rice and salad

Unadon - $17.00
Grilled eel on rice with sweet soya sauce

Mixed Seasonal Tempura - $25.00
Asparagus, prawns, silver whiting fillets in light batter

Thanks to the kind recommendation of my friend Ivy, I too have now come to know and LOVE Chiba in Moonee Ponds! It's one of those places that's really not that popular amongst the blogosphere or Urbanspoon ranking but if you know me, I tend to go to places via word of mouth from my friends and family than look for places to try on what's trending on Urbanspoon. 

In fact, I've always been so behind on any of the "food trends" in Melbourne. Still haven't been to ANY of the Bao (Bao Now, Wonderbao), Dessert (LuxBite, Burch & Purchese), Hotdog (Snag Stand, Phats Brats), American (Rockwell & Sons, Bowery to Williamsburg) etc etc etc places around town... Not to mention any of the food trucks in Melbourne. I'm sure they're all good, but I really just can't be bothered... Doesn't interest me.

Chiba wasn't what I was expecting at all, especially since I've never heard of it until then. The place was full house both nights that I went and I can see why. Places like these with clean, modern and comfortable interior that serves great authentic Asian foods are always thriving and a huge hit amongst the locals. Which is why they don't need Urbanspoon or blogs to push their business as they're busy as it is already. One of those places that you can tell are filled with returning customers, including myself. 

Overall, the food is really good. Great execution, fresh ingredients and fair pricing. Though the menu is more straightforward compared to other Japanese restaurants that I like (such as Pabu and Komeyui), it's nice to go to a place that serves all the usual favourites as well. They maintain a good standard of quality that it doesn't matter what you order because the food is going to be enjoyable anyway. 

So next time you're thinking of where else to go for your next Japanese meal, think of Chiba. A good group of friends, round of sake, table of food. What more do you need? And make sure you order that sashimi boat and soft shell crab roll too -- it's a must!

Hope you're all having a good start to the weekend!

Chiba Japanese on Urbanspoon

If you're keen, you can also check out Agnes' post on Chiba: here

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Kaki Fry (Deep Fried Panko Oysters) and Chawanmushi Recipe

These babies were too hard to resist!

Besides making the Tempura Soft Shell Crabs for the Japanese potluck I had at my place a few weeks back, I also made these delicious Kaki Fry (Deep Fried Panko Oysters) and Chawanmushi (Japanese Steamed Egg Custard) too. 

Kaki Fry is one of my favourite things to order at Japanese restaurants. When it's good, it's REALLY good. I must say that I've been scorned by many horrendous ones in the past with thick/cakey batter and stinky oysters. Although, my love (and stubbornness) for them has always gotten the better of me and I end up ordering them time and time again. As is the case for Tempura Soft Shell Crabs. Hence, the reason for finally making them at home. 

These Kaki Fry in particular were great and turned out better than expected. Huge hit at the party. Making the Japanese Tartare sauce is extra work but worth the effort. If you're pushed for time, serving them with Kewpie Jap Mayo is great as well.

Potluck spread. Well done, all!

As for the Chawanmushi, they turned out really good too. Everyone has their preferences, but I think a good Chawanmushi is smooth in texture, so thin that it almost melts in your mouth with a good dashi stock base and lots of ingredients inside. 

Happy to say that this was all of that and much easier to make at home than expected! I go even further to say that they're better than the ones you get in many Japanese restaurants.

Dashi, a generic term used for "stock" in Japanese cooking is typically made with dried kelp and bonito flakes. Sometimes, with dried anchovies too. The dashi powder I used was delicious and I recommend it for your cooking.

Besides that, I also recommend having a small bottle of the S&B Assorted Chilli Pepper Powder in your pantry for Japanese cooking. Such a great ingredient to have handy, love it.

BIG thanks to Cooking With a Dog for sharing their recipes on Youtube. Definitely my go to source for great, authentic Japanese homecooking. Fail proof recipes every time!


Kaki Fry (Deep Fried Panko Oysters) Recipe
(adapted from this video recipe by Cooking With a Dog)


For the oysters:
1 dozen fresh oysters
1 cup water + 1 tsp salt
1 egg
4 tbsp plain flour
2 tbsp water
1/2 cup plain flour
1 1/2 cups panko breadcrumbs
Oil for frying

For the Japanese tartare sauce:
1 hard boiled egg
2 tbsp onions (finely minced)
2 tbsp parsley (finely minced)
1 small pickled cucumbers (or 2 small cornichons, finely diced)
2 tbsp mayonaise 
2 tbsp lemon juice
pinch of salt

To garnish:
Chopped spring onions 
S&B Chilli Pepper Powder (optional)


1. Rinse each oyster thoroughly in the salted water. Pat them dry with a paper towel and set aside. Rinse and pat dry the oyster shells too for serving later.

2. Mix all the ingredients for the Japanese tartare sauce in a bowl and set aside. 

3. For the batter, mix the egg, 4 tbsp plain flour and water in a bowl until well combined. 

4. Coat each oyster lightly in remaining flour. Cover the oysters in batter and coat thoroughly with panko breadcrumbs. Place all the breaded oysters in the fridge for at least 20 minutes.

5. Heat up oil in a pot. Once very hot, remove the oysters from the fridge and fry them on both sides in oil until golden brown. Remove and allow to cook on wire rack.

6. To serve, place each of the fried oysters in a shell. Top with small dollop of Japanese tartare sauce (or Kewpie Mayo). Garnish with spring onions and a dash of S&B Assorted Chilli Pepper. 

Chawanmushi (Japanese Steamed Egg Custard) Recipe
(adapted from this video recipe by Cooking With a Dog)


For the fillings:
1 skinless chicken thigh fillet 
6 shrimps (shelled and deveined)
4 frozen crab sticks (sliced)
6 fresh shiitake mushrooms (halved)
Cooking sake and soy sauce for seasoning

For egg custard:
3 large eggs 
2 1/2 cups water
1 sachet (5g) dashi stock powder
1 1/2 tsp cooking Sake
1 1/2 tsp soy sauce
pinch of salt

To garnish:
Fresh spring onions or coriander


1. For the filling, dice the chicken thigh to 1cm pieces. Mix in a bowl with a dash of sake and soy sauce. Allow to marinate for 10 minutes.

2. Heat up a non stick pan and sear the chicken pieces. Dish and set aside. 

3. Halve the shrimps. Mix shrimps and crab sticks in a bowl with a dash of sake and soy sauce, set aside.

4. For the custard, beat the eggs (but not too hard to prevent too much bubbles). Place the water and dashi stock in a bowl and microwave for 30 seconds.

5. Mix the beaten eggs, dashi stock and remaining custard ingredients gently with a fork until well combined. 

6. Distribute the chicken, shrimp, crab stick and mushroom fillings evenly between 6 small bowls. Pour custard mixture into each bowl. 

7. Steam on lowest fire for approx. 12 minutes. Test by sticking chopsticks in the mixture. If soup comes out clear, it is done. Garnish with spring onions or coriander. 

Super smooth and delicious

Finally, my friend also brought this AMAZING sashimi platter from Suzuran. It was so fresh, delicious and even fatty too. Amazing quality and price. Need to have this again!

Suzuran on Urbanspoon