Otak-otak panggang

Otak-otak panggang

Grilled spicy fish paste in banana leaf

Have You Eaten
Billy Law

This is a popular classic Nyonya snack that you can find almost everywhere in Malaysia. The fish paste is wrapped in banana leaf parcels and then either steamed or grilled on a barbecue. I prefer the latter version as it has a nice, smoky flavour.

Otak-otak actually means ‘brains’ in Malay, because the cooked fish paste is soft and almost squishy, like a brain! But don’t worry, you won’t turn into a zombie anytime soon. ‘Brainzzz …’


Quantity Ingredient
250ml Rempah spice paste
125ml coconut cream
4 kaffir lime leaves, very thinly sliced, (see note)
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon salt
2 large banana leaves, cut into 20 cm squares, cleaned
a handful toothpicks

Fish paste

Quantity Ingredient
500g snapper fillets
1 tablespoon cornflour
pinch salt
1/2 teaspoon ground white pepper
125ml iced water


  1. To make the fish paste, put 300 g of the fish fillets in a food processor, then add the cornflour, salt and white pepper and blend into a paste. With the processor still running, pour the iced water into the mixture in a steady stream, and blend until it forms a sticky paste.
  2. With cleaned hands, collect the fish paste in one hand and throw it against the side of a mixing bowl. Do this 8–10 times until the fish paste becomes sticky and elastic. This technique gives the paste a nice springy texture when cooked. Chop up the remaining 200 g of the fish fillets into 1 cm cubes and mix into the fish paste.
  3. Scoop out 30 g of the fish paste and put it into another mixing bowl. Add the rempah spice paste, coconut cream and kaffir lime leaves, then season with the sugar and salt. Stir well and set aside.
  4. Scald the banana leaves with hot water to soften them, then pat dry. Alternatively, place the leaves in a microwave for 30 seconds or fan the leaves over a naked flame on a gas stove.
  5. To assemble, spread a teaspoon of the spice paste in the middle of the banana leaf, put a tablespoon of fish paste on top, then cover with another teaspoon of spice paste over the top. Gently fold the leaf over the mixture and secure both ends with toothpicks. Repeat until all the fish paste is used.
  6. Heat up a barbecue and grill the fish parcels for 5 minutes on each side. Pile the banana leaf parcels onto a serving platter.


  • To cut kaffir lime leaves into long thin strips, stack the leaves together, roll them tightly then very thinly slice. This cooking technique is called ‘chiffonade’.
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