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On a recent holiday to South-East Asia I sampled, in various forms, a
dish called Otak Otak, which might roughly be called fish cakes, but
this is unromantic relative to the final product. I had the dish in
Singapore, Indonesia and Malaysia, and I had it grilled, steamed and
fried, but the best was undoubtedly Otak Otak Panggang, the grilled
version native to either Malaysia or Indonesia (or both).

The basis of the dish is that it is some form of seafood with coconut
milk and spices made into a paste, wrapped in banana leaf and grilled.
I've made them since returning from Asis and here is a rough recipe with
which you may like to experiment. All measurements both approximate (I
can't recall exactly how I did it, but it's easy) and universal (I'd
hate to confuse some of the Yanks by talking metric)

Ingredients (for the easy version, read "Substitutions")

* 1 cup squid.
* 1 cup prawn (shrimp, scampi).
* Half a cup thick coconut milk (leave a bought can to settle and use
only the pretty-much-solid bit that settles to the top. I reckon that
Ayam brand is way better than the rest).
* One smallish red onion.
* Two cloves garlic.
* 2 teaspoons fish sauce.
* 1 teaspoon shrimp paste.
* Half a teaspoon sugar (you got palm sugar?).
* Spices: fresh red chili to taste, turmeric, galangal (thai ginger),
lemon grass, lime peel, coriander seeds and the like. Whatever goes well
in seafood coconut curries.
* 30 pieces of fresh banana leaf about the length and width of a video


easy. Take all the ingredients and mix-to-death in a blender, or pound
to a paste in a mortar and pestle (oh, you authentic type, you). Spread
two rounded teaspoonsfull of the paste lengthwise in the centre
one-third of a piece of banana leaf, leaving a space all around. Fold
the sides over. Encase this again in another leaf folded similarly (a
singly-wrapped one will burn and insides will stick to the outsides).
Staple the ends or attach with toothpicks. Barbeque over coals for about
ten minutes. The outside layer can blacken in parts, it only adds to
flavour and presentation.

When it comes time to eat, don't eat the banana leaf. The thing which I
like the best is that the final presentation is quite firm to the tooth,
normally bad for seafood, but nice in this case.

Substitutions: this can be made with fish or with crab (all quite
authentic), and if you have some form of Thai curry paste (red may be
best. I use Maesri brand but I suspect that it's just habit - you could
well prefer others), that can be used in place of the spices for an easy
but, I'm sure, tasty version. You can also add an egg if you think that
the mixture is not thick enough. I've never encountered that problem.

It'll get you more compliments than turkey franks, or prefab hamburger
patties. Gee, what a nasty derisive person I am. If you try it, or know
of an improvement, reply. I might even say something nice about your
country of origin. Unlikely, though.


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