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* if available; or substitute fresh citrus leaves These banana leaf packets filled with a spicy fish mousse make great grill-it-yourself barbecued appetizers. The banana jackets make them wonderfully easy to hold in your hand as picnic food. Or, if you prefer, the filling may be spread on toast points for a more formal presentation. Otak Otak comes in many variations throughout Southeast Asia. Each version contains a rempah, the Malay name for the hand-pounded seasoning pastes which are the bouquet garni of Southeast Asian cooking. The traditional Singapore Nonya rempah includes chiles, garlic, shallots, lemongrass, turmeric, candle nuts, and shrimp paste, although other spices and herbs may be used to enhance a particular dish. Like curry pastes, rempahs are traditionally pounded in a mortar. Although a hand- pounded paste is better, it is time-consuming and laborious for the average American cook. I recommend starting the paste in a spice mill and/or a mini-food processor, switching to a mortar for a final pounding to smooth out the rough edges. In Singapore, Otak Otak is usually made with a Spanish mackerel called tenggiri, but this recipe was developed with milder white-fleshed fish. 1. Prepare the Rempah. [Recipe below. S.C.] 2. Pat the fish dry and cut it into 2-inch pieces. Put the fish in the work bowl of a food processor and chop into a fine paste. Add the salt, sugar, white pepper, and egg and process until fully incorporated, about 5 seconds. Transfer the mixture to a large bowl and stir in the cooled rempah. Beat with a wooden spoon or mix with your hands until smooth, about 5 minutes. Remove the spines from the lime leaves and cut the leaves into very fine shreds. Fold them into the fish mixture. 3. For each packet, dip a square of banana leaf into boiling water for 1 to 2 minutes; pat dry. Spread 2 to 3 tablespoons of the fish mixture down the middle of the leaf to within 1 inch of the ends. Place a shrimp in the middle of the fish mousse and pat it into the filling to lie flat. Fold the long edges over the filling (they should overlap in the center) to make a flat long packet. Press down lightly to flatten the packet a bit; press the ends shut and seal with toothpicks. (Packets may be prepared to this point up to 2 hours ahead of time and refrigerated.) 4. Place the banana leaf packets on a grill 3 to 4 inches over a medium-hot fire and cook for 3 minutes per side (open one to test for doneness before serving). Serve hot, warm, or at room temperature. Makes 24 packets. VAR1AT1ON: Otak Otak can also be steamed. Put the fish packets on a steaming tray in a wok filled with boiling water and steam over medium- high heat for 5 minutes. REMPAH: (Spice Paste) 1 . Cut the chiles just below the stem. Shake the chiles to loosen the seeds. Discard the stem and seeds. Put the chiles into a bowl and cover them with warm water; soak for 15 minutes (1 hour is better, if you have the time). 2. Cut off and discard the root from the lemongrass. Re move the tough outer leaves until you see a light purple ring. Use only the tender white mid-section; chop coarsely. 3. With the motor running, drop the lemongrass down the feed tube of a mini-processor; chop as fine as possible. Add the galangal; chop as fine as possible. Add the chiles and chop as fine as possible. Add the candle nuts, shallots, garlic, turmeric, ground coriander, and shrimp paste and process together into a paste (this may take 2 to 3 minutes); scrape down the sides of the work bowl as necessary. 4. Heat 1/4 cup thick coconut milk in a saucepan over medium-high heat; stir continuously until thick and oily. Add the contents of the processor and cook gently until the mixture is fragrant and oily, about 5 minutes. Add the remaining coconut milk and bring to a boil, stirring constantly; cook until incorporated. Let cool before adding to the fish mixture. The rempah can be made a few hours ahead of time. From "Asian Appetizers" by Joyce Jue, Harlow and Ratner, 1991. ISBN 0-9627345-1-9. Posted by Stephen Ceideberg; December 8 1992. File ftp://ftp.idiscover.co.uk/pub/food/mealmaster/recipes/cberg2.zip
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