Otak Otak – Dani Valent

A fragrant steamed seafood custard from Malaysia

Otak Otak is a savoury fish custard with fragrant curry flavours and is eaten all over Malaysia and Singapore in various forms, usually wrapped in banana leaves and steamed, but sometimes also grilled. The name means ‘brain brain’ because of a supposed resemblance to brains – I don’t see it myself!

It might sound unusual but otak otak is delicious and so easy. You can prepare the mixture in advance, pop it in the ramekins and store in the refrigerator. Serve it as a snack, light meal or entree.

I’m behind the camera in this video. It stars the lovely Sandra Bee, a Thermomix advisor in Penang. She very kindly showed me around the charming capital city, Georgetown, then took me back to her home where she made otak otak as a treat for her son, who was studying for exams. I whipped out my phone to record this video so forgive the quality, just enjoy the recipe!

Makes: 4
Time: 40 minutes


  • 400 grams (14 oz) white fish fillets, cubed
  • 1 tsp soy sauce
  • 1 tsp sesame oil
  • 1/2 tsp ground pepper
  • 10 grams (0.35 oz) garlic (approx. 2-3 cloves)
  • 80 grams (3 oz) onion, roughly chopped
  • 80 grams (3 oz) shallots
  • 10 grams (0.35 oz) dried chilli, soaked and drained
  • 10 grams (0.35 oz) galangal (see Tips)
  • 15 grams (0.5 oz) fresh turmeric (see Tips)
  • 20 grams (0.7 oz) ginger
  • 15 grams (0.5 oz) candlenuts or macadamias (see Tips)
  • 30 grams (1 oz) vegetable oil
  • 2 eggs
  • 90 grams (3.17 oz) coconut cream
  • 4 Kaffir lime leaves, thinly sliced
  • 6 kadok leaves, thinly sliced, plus extra to line ramekins, optional (see Tips)


1. Toss fish with soy, sesame and pepper in a bowl. Set aside.

2. Add onion, ginger, chilli, nuts, turmeric, garlic and galangal into mixing bowl. Chop 30 sec/speed 10.

3. Add oil and chop 5 sec/speed 6. Scrape down sides of mixing bowl then saute 3 min/120°C (250°F)/Rev/speed soft.

4. Add fish, eggs, coconut cream, lime leaves, kadok leaves, if using. Mix 10 sec/Rev/speed 3.

5. Transfer mixture into four ramekins, each lined with a kadok leaf, if using. Otherwise, just rub a little oil or butter in ramekins. Place ramekins in Varoma. Pour 1L (35 oz) water into mixing bowl and set Varoma in place. Steam 25 min/Varoma/speed 2 or until just set. Eat warm or cool.


  • Galangal is a knobbly rhizome that looks similar to ginger but is darker, firmer and more fibrous. The flavour is earthy, citrusy and almost piney.
  • If you can’t find fresh turmeric, add a teaspoon of powdered turmeric along with the fish.
  • Candlenuts are a creamy nut, similar to a macadamia, and often used in south-east Asian cooking for thickening dishes. Sandra calls them ‘buah keras’ in Malay.
  • Kadok leaves are native to south-east Asia; they are sometimes called wild pepper leaf and are often confused with betel leaves. Even more confusingly, they’re sometimes called wild betel leaves too! If you’re not lucky enough to find them, you can just leave them out. Alternatively, add a little ground pepper and a squeeze of lemon to approximate the flavour.
  • Make mixture in advance, ready for steaming at mealtime.
  • Use any size ramekins but adjust cooking time to suit. Smaller ramekins won’t need as long.
  • As Sandra says, you can cover ramekins with foil to prevent water dripping on them as they steam, but it’s easy enough to pour it off after cooking too.

More about this video

  • I visited Penang in November 2018, after doing Thermomix cooking classes in Singapore and Malaysia. Penang was my foodie adventure at the end of my trip. I absolutely loved it!
  • I have a very different savoury seafood custard recipe too: the Scallop Mousseline with Lemon Caper Sauce is as French as it gets!
  • This coconut curry sauce is brilliant with prawns: Kha Nhom Jeen Nam Prik.
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