Pempek Pistel Recipe (Palembang Stuffed Fish Cake With Green Papaya) » Indonesia Eats

For those who grew up in Indonesia, s/he must know Pempek Palembang (Palembangese fish cake). Palembang is the capital city of South Sumatra province. {WARNING: This post will be quite long!}

Back when I was at university, I had a roommate whom originally from South Sumatra. The South Sumatran students often got together and made pempek for their food. The ordinary pempek that they made was pempek pistel. From our perspective, making pempek pistel was pretty cheaper compare to pempek kapal selam as we, students lived on tight budget. Yes green papaya is cheaper compare to egg in our country.

I also traveled to South Sumatra one time to this roommate’s hometown where I ate many different pempeks. There are many variants of pempek in this province, yet most people who live in Java only know about pempek kapal selam (stuffed with egg), lenjer and lenggang(grilled omelet with fish cake).

  • Pempek Lenjer has long log shape; the shape is very similar to lontong (Indonesian rice cake). There are two ways to enjoy this pempek lenjer once after it’s boiled. You can deep fry, cut into pieces and enjoy with cuko (spicy tamarind sauce). Another one is cut into pieces after boiling, then throw them into a shrimp and coconut milk mixture which known as Laksan Palembang (Palembangese coconut milk soup).
  • Pempek Lenggang is made after the pempek lenjer is boiled. Then, it’s cut into pieces and mixed with duck egg. Prepare banana leaves that have been shaped like bowl/plate. Pour duck egg mixture into banana leaves bowl and grill on charcoal.
  • Pempek Kapal Selam/Telur has the same mixture of fish cake as pempek lenjer, but it is filled with egg. I don’t know why this pempek named after kapal selam (submarine).
  • Pempek Adaan/Bulat. Bulat means round in bahasa Indonesia. From the name bulat, you can guess that pempek adaan has a round shape like a ball. The mixture is the same with pempek lenjer.
  • Pempek Pistel. Regular pempek lenjer mixture with green papaya stuffed.
  • Pempek Keriting is pempek with curlies shape. Indeed the shape of this pempek is just like curly hair. The Palembangese likes to eat this without deep frying after boiling.
  • Pempek Tunu/Panggang is grilled pempek. No boiling process is needed before grilling. After fillling the mixture with dried fish and soy sauce or dried shrimp with kecap manis and bird eye chilies, you can grill right away.
  • Pempek Kulit. This one is my favourite among other pempeks. It’s such a perfect name for this pempek. Kulit means skin. In which, pempek kulit is made from fish skin. Ohh boy this one is my favourite beside pempek pistel, keriting and tunu.
  • Pempek Model and Tahu. Both these pempeks are filled with tofu. Model has a larger percentage on fish cake mixture than pempek tahu. Pempek tahu has thin fish cake with more tofu filling than pempek model. Pempek model is cooked with a soup while pempek tahu is deep fried.
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In conclusion, pempek lenjer, kapal selam/telu, adaan/bulat. pistel, model and tahu are using the same basic pempek dough which I will explain how to make it on the recipe. Important part to company pempek is cuko (spicy tamarind sauce). Always use palm sugar (gula aren) since the coconut sugar (gula Jawa) is not darker enough.

Pempek Pistel
– Fish Cake Stuffed with Green Papaya –

Basic Pempek Dough:

  • 500 grams featherback fish (ikan belida) paste
  • 250 grams tapioca starch (can be substituted for sago flour or arrowroot starch)
  • 2 tablespoons ground dried shrimp*
  • 2-3 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 100 – 125 milliliter icy water (about 4 degrees C)
  • Dusting: a mix unbleach all purpose flour and tapioca starch

300 grams shredded green papaya
2 tablespoons ground dried shrimp*
3 small sized shallots, minced
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon ground white pepper
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
kosher salt to taste
2 tablespoons cooking oil for stir frying

Cuko (Spicy Tamarind Sauce):
500 grams palm sugar (gula aren), microwaved for 5-10 seconds just to soften
100 grams tamarind
50 grams ground dried shrimp*
190 grams minced garlic
1 tablespoon fried garlic
1 1/4 liter water
1 1/2 cuka aren (nypa sap vinegar)
10 bird eyes chilies, ground
1 tablespoon tong cai (Chinese preserved vegetables)
salt to taste

Basic Pempek Dough:
1. In a bowl, combine fish paste with icy water.
2. Add ground dried shrimp and salt. Stir well until thicken.
3. Add tapioca starch gradually while you knead slowly until smooth and not sticky on the hand

At this point you can make pempek lenjer, kapal selam, adaan and pistel

Pempek Pistel:
1. Filling: Stir fry garlic, coriander, and shallot until fragrant. Add green papaya, ground dried shrimp, ground white pepper and salt until the papaya is wilted. Set aside.

2. In a big pot, add water and bring to a boil.

3. On your work table, dust a mix all purpose flour and tapioca starch.

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4. Take a small amount of basic pempek dough about approximately 25 grams. Shape it into a ball. Flat it with a rolling pin. Move the flatten dough on a pastry maker. Fill the dough with a green papaya mixture. Slowly fold the pastry maker and then press a bit firmly to seal the edges. Open carefully halfway and take out your pempek pistel.

5. Plunk pempek pistel into a pot with boiling water. Let pempek pistel to float. Remove from boiling water. Set aside.

6. Deep fry until golden brown. Serve with cuko, sprinkle of dried ground shrimp and cucumber chopped.

Cuko (Spicy Tamarind Sauce):
1. In a saucepan, add water, tamarind and palm sugar. Let the sugar dissolve and bring to a boil.

2. Add garlic, fried garlic, dried shrimp paste, tong cai, ground bird eye chilies, and salt. Bring to re-boil. Set aside. Add cuka aren. At this point your cuko is supposed to be spicy, tangy and sweet,

3. Strain and transfer to a jug or bottle.

Cook’s Note:
* If you have an allergy to shellfish or dietary restriction such as following kosher diet, you can skip the ground dried shrimp for katsuobushi (Japanese smoked fish flakes). Katsuobushi is made from skipjack tuna.

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