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Pempek Adaan & Saus Cuko - Chicken and Shrimp Balls & Spicy Tamarind Sauce

Learn how to make these deep-fried chicken and shrimp meatballs and a spicy tamarind sauce. Serve these delicious treats with noodles and cucumber for a complete meal.
Pempek adaan (deep-fried chicken and shrimp meatballs) with saus cuko (spicy tamarind sauce).

Pempek adaan (deep-fried chicken and shrimp meatballs) with saus cuko (spicy tamarind sauce).

Imagine a bowl of crispy golden brown deep-fried meatballs, cut into bite-size pieces, served with a savory-sweet and spicy tamarind sauce. If you are drooling from that description, then you will be very happy to create pempek at home.

Although fish is commonly the main ingredient in pempek, today I am sharing this recipe for pempek adaan using chicken and shrimp. You will also learn how to prepare saus cuko (spicy tamarind sauce) from scratch to serve with your homemade pempek. I will even give you tips to prepare an almost instant pempek with frozen packets of fish balls.

Ingredients for pempek adaan (chicken and shrimp meatballs): chicken, shrimp, eggs, shallot, coconut milk, tapioca flour, salt, and sugar. Ingredients for saus cuko (spicy tamarind sauce): garlic, bird-eye chilies, tamarind, and coconut palm sugar.

Ingredients for pempek adaan (chicken and shrimp meatballs): chicken, shrimp, eggs, shallot, coconut milk, tapioca flour, salt, and sugar. Ingredients for saus cuko (spicy tamarind sauce): garlic, bird-eye chilies, tamarind, and coconut palm sugar.

What is Pempek?

Pempek, Mpek-Mpek, or Empek-Empek, is Indonesian fish cakes considered as the signature dish of the city of Palembang in South Sumatra.

The main ingredients for Pempek fish cakes are fish, especially Spanish mackerel (Indonesian: ikan tenggiri), and tapioca flour. The fish paste can be boiled or fried, but they are always served with saus cuko (spicy tamarind sauce).

The story has it that Pempek is created around the 16th century by an old Chinese immigrant man who lives in the area around the Musi river in the city of Palembang. He uses the bountiful fish in the area and mixes it with tapioca and spices to create fish cakes, and sells them in his cart around the village. Apek is how people address an old Chinese man, and along the way, the dish itself is known as pempek/mpek-mpek/empek-empek.

What is Pempek Adaan?

My best translation for pempek adaan is anything pempek, or pempek without fish. In this recipe, we will use a combination of ground chicken and ground shrimp for the meatballs instead of fish.

Saus cuko pempek (spicy tamarind sauce): Boil water with minced garlic, sliced bird-eye chilies, tamarind, and coconut palm sugar.

Saus cuko pempek (spicy tamarind sauce): Boil water with minced garlic, sliced bird-eye chilies, tamarind, and coconut palm sugar.

What is saus cuko and how to make it?

Saus cuko, kuah cuko, or just cuko, is the spicy sauce to accompany a bowl of pempek. It has a sweet, spicy, and sour note from tamarind, garlic, bird-eye chili, and coconut palm sugar.

For a more deluxe version of saus cuko, you can add a tablespoon of dried tiny shrimps (Indonesian: ebi) and/or a tablespoon of Tianjin preserved vegetables (Chinese: 冬菜- dong cai).

Saus cuko is a very thin sauce, very similar to noodle broth. It is very common to serve pempek with boiled egg noodles, sliced cucumbers, and the spicy tamarind sauce.

To make saus cuko, simply boil water with minced garlic, thinly sliced bird-eye chilies, tamarind, and coconut palm sugar. Turn off the heat once all the sugar melts.

You can strain and serve the sauce immediately. I prefer to let the sauce steep while I prepare pempek to get an even better flavor for the sauce. I strain the sauce once I am ready to serve the pempek.

Step-by-step to prepare pempek: (1) Mix ground chicken, ground shrimp, minced shallot, coconut milk, eggs, salt, and sugar. (2) Add tapioca flour. (3) Fold into a uniform paste with meatball-like consistency. (4) Use a medium size cookie scoop to drop meatball mixture into hot oil and fry until golden brown.

Step-by-step to prepare pempek: (1) Mix ground chicken, ground shrimp, minced shallot, coconut milk, eggs, salt, and sugar. (2) Add tapioca flour. (3) Fold into a uniform paste with meatball-like consistency. (4) Use a medium size cookie scoop to drop meatball mixture into hot oil and fry until golden brown.

Step-by-step to prepare pempek adaan mixture

In a mixing bowl, combine ground chicken, ground shrimp, ground shallot, salt, sugar, eggs, and coconut milk into a uniform mixture.

Add tapioca flour and use a spatula to gently fold into the ground chicken and shrimp mixture until uniform.

TIPS: Sometimes, there is no need to add the whole 500 gram of tapioca flour to create the meatball mixture. I start with about 23 of the tapioca flour, then only add as much as needed until the mixture reaches a meatball-like mixture consistency.

Chill this mixture in the fridge while we heat a pot of oil for deep-frying. If you don’t wish to fry the meatballs on the same day, you can wrap the bowl with a plastic wrap and just rest it in the fridge overnight.

Making ahead

Optionally, you can shape and boil the meatball mixture in a pot of water at this point. You can freeze boiled meatballs in a freezer-safe ziplock bag for up to 3 months. When you want to enjoy some pempek, fry the frozen meatballs in hot oil without thawing.

Pempek adaan (deep-fried chicken and shrimp meatballs) with saus cuko (spicy tamarind sauce).

Pempek adaan (deep-fried chicken and shrimp meatballs) with saus cuko (spicy tamarind sauce).

Frying pempek mixture into fried meatballs

Heat a pot of oil over medium heat until the oil is hot. Remove meatball mixture from the fridge, drop tablespoonfuls of meatball mixture gently into the hot oil and fry until golden brown.

Here are my tips for frying pempek:

1. Know when the oil is hot

If you have a thermometer, wait until the oil reaches 170 Celsius (340 Fahrenheit) before frying the meatballs.

If you don’t have a thermometer, try dropping a tiny meatball mixture into the oil. The oil is ready when the mixture floats to the surface instead of sinks to the bottom of the pot.

2. Use a cookie scoop

If you use a medium-size cookie scoop, you can use the scoop release trigger to drop the meatball mixture easily into the hot oil.

3. Fry in batches

Try to maintain the oil temperature during frying, don’t crowd the pot, and fry the meatballs in batches if necessary. For reference, fry seven meatballs per batch when using an 8-inch pot with three inches of oil.

4. Drain over a wire rack

Remove fried meatballs from the hot oil with a slotted spoon or a strainer ladle. Place them on a stainless steel strainer over a mixing bowl to drain off excess oil so they will remain crispy.

Pempek adaan (deep-fried chicken and shrimp meatballs) with saus cuko (spicy tamarind sauce).

Pempek adaan (deep-fried chicken and shrimp meatballs) with saus cuko (spicy tamarind sauce).

How to serve pempek

Cut fried meatballs into halves or quarters and place them in individual serving bowls. At its simplest, serve the fried meatballs with the spicy tamarind sauce. Only ladle the sauce over the fried meatballs right before serving so the meatballs remain crispy.

For a complete and more filling meal, try boiling some egg noodles, and cut a cucumber into thin slices. Serve the bowl of pempek with egg noodles and cucumber slices.

I know that fresh egg noodles can be a luxury item in the US. I have also tried serving pempek with vermicelli, rice noodles, and even instant ramen noodles. They all work great and these are all easier options than finding egg noodles.

Ladle some spicy tamarind sauce over the fried meatballs right before serving.

Ladle some spicy tamarind sauce over the fried meatballs right before serving.

The case of an instant pempek

You can make an almost instant pempek if your grocery store or Asian market sells frozen packets of fish cakes or fish balls.

If the fish cakes/fish balls are the boiled variety, boil them following the packet instruction, then fry in hot oil, or even a simple pan-frying to get a golden brown crispy surface. It may be possible to fry them without boiling, but please confirm with the packaging instruction.

If you are lucky enough to find fried fish cakes/fried fish balls, then you can simply cook them following the packet instruction.

Serve these fried fish cakes or fish balls with the spicy tamarind sauce and you get an almost instant pempek.

Pempek adaan (deep-fried chicken and shrimp meatballs) with saus cuko (spicy tamarind sauce).

Pempek adaan (deep-fried chicken and shrimp meatballs) with saus cuko (spicy tamarind sauce).

Pempek Adaan & Saus Cuko - Chicken and Shrimp Balls & Spicy Tamarind Sauce

5.0 from 14 reviews

Author: Anita Jacobson

Categories:

Cuisine:

Ingredients:

Prep Time: 45 mins

Cook Time: 45 mins

Total Time: 1 hour 30 mins

Serves: 8

Print Recipe

Ingredients

  • Pempek adaan (chicken and shrimp meatballs)
  • 500 gram ground chicken
  • 250 gram ground shrimp
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 100 gram shallots (Indonesian: bawang merah), grind into a fine paste
  • 3 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 100 ml coconut milk, from canned coconut milk
  • 500 gram tapioca flour/starch
  • Saus cuko (spicy tamarind sauce)
  • 8-10 cloves garlic, minced
  • 10-15 bird-eye chilies (Indonesian: cabe rawit), thinly sliced
  • 200 gram coconut palm sugar (Indonesian: gula Jawa)
  • 50 gram tamarind (Indonesian: asam Jawa)
  • 1 liter (4 cup) water
  • Accompaniments (optional)
  • 8 servings of boiled egg noodles/vermicelli/rice noodles/ramen
  • 1 cucumber, thinly sliced

Instructions

  1. Saus cuko (spicy tamarind sauce): Boil all sauce ingredients in a pot. Turn off the heat once all the sugar melts. Let the sauce steep while we prepare the meatballs. Strain the sauce right before serving.
  2. Prepare pempek mixture: In a mixing bowl, combine ground chicken, ground shrimp, ground shallot, salt, sugar, eggs, and coconut milk into a uniform mixture.
  3. Add tapioca flour and use a spatula to gently fold into the ground chicken and shrimp mixture until uniform.
    TIPS: Sometimes, there is no need to add the whole 500 gram of tapioca flour to create the meatball mixture. I start with about 2⁄3 of the tapioca flour, then only add as much as needed until the mixture reaches a meatball-like mixture consistency.
  4. Chill this mixture in the fridge while we heat a pot of oil for deep-frying. If you don’t wish to fry the meatballs on the same day, you can wrap the bowl with a plastic wrap and just rest it in the fridge overnight.
  5. Heat oil: Heat about 3 inches of oil in a pot over medium heat until the oil is hot (170 Celsius/340 Fahrenheit).
    TIPS: If you don’t have a thermometer, try dropping a tiny meatball mixture into the oil. The oil is ready when the mixture floats to the surface instead of sinks to the bottom of the pot.
  6. Fry meatballs: Remove meatball mixture from the fridge, drop tablespoonfuls of meatball mixture gently into the hot oil and fry until golden brown.
    TIPS: If you use a medium-size cookie scoop, you can use the scoop release trigger to drop the meatball mixture easily into the hot oil.
  7. Drain meatballs: Remove fried meatballs from the hot oil with a slotted spoon or a strainer ladle. Place them on a stainless steel strainer over a mixing bowl to drain off excess oil so they will remain crispy.
  8. Serve pempek: Cut fried meatballs into halves or quarters and place in individual serving bowls. Serve with strained kuah cuko (spicy tamarind sauce), and optionally with boiled noodles and cucumber slices.
Indonesian Pantry
Indonesian Kitchen

Comments

  • Dedy@Dentist Chef Dedy@Dentist Chef says:

    Ini pempek favoritku mbak, bisa nyemilin 10 biji.... apalagi klo ditambahin kucai, bawang bombay sama daun bawang yg buanyak..... Lekker! btw, dulu sblm papa diabet, kadang cincnagan lemak babi juga dimasukin.....

    • Anita Anita says:

      Sama nih Mas Dedy, apalagi kalo panas-panas selesai digoreng, bisa habis deh kalo ga maksa stop makan, haha :D Wuih, kebayang tuh enaknya kalo pake lemak babi ... ♥

  • yositako yositako says:

    I made this today tp tapioka nya dikurangin sekitar 75 gram. Kebetulan masih punya sisa kuah pempek. Enak banget! Thanks for sharing :)

  • Mia Farrell Mia Farrell says:

    Hello Anita, Saya ingin sekali tahu bagaimana bikin empek empek dengan menggunakan fishcake yang bisa saya beli dari supermarket Asia. Jadi saya tidak usah membuat fishcake karena bisa dibeli. Saya hanya ingin tahu bagaimana membuat empek empek saja. Terima kasih yang tak terhingga ! Salam manis, Mia

    • Anita Anita says:

      Hi Mia, biasanya saya beli bakso ikan polos saja, dan digoreng dengan minyak panas setelah dicelupkan di dalam kocokan telur dan tepung terigu. Semoga membantu :)

  • Mita Mita says:

    Wow mbak Anita ini keren banget. Telah banyak mempromosikan masakan indonesia ke dunia. Terima kasih, semoga masakan kita lebih terkenal lagi

  • Adel Adel says:

    Do we need so much tapioca flour?

    • Anita Anita says:

      Hi Adel, you can reduce the amount of tapioca flour slightly, but it should still be at least 300 gram. Hope this helps.

  • Mdm Lee Mdm Lee says:

    Is this sauce meant to be watery. When Sugar dissolved sauce is not thickened at all. I continued to stir till 1/3 left. So little sauce against 400 ml liquid .

    • Anita Anita says:

      Hi Mdm Lee, yes the sauce is supposed to be watery :) Some people even add boiled egg noodles or rice noodles to eat with the sauce and the fried fish cakes.

  • Dewi Dewi says:

    I did try this today use lil less tapioka starch, amazing, super delicious, thank you so much for sharing

    • Anita Anita says:

      You are welcome Dewi :)

  • Kania Kania says:

    Hi, Thanks for sharing the recipe, Anita! I've made this many times and everyone loves it! Today when I made it, I'm not sure what I did differently, but my meatballs were still a little sticky/moist. I could see the chicken and shrimp parts are cooked. Do you have any idea what went wrong? It's still delicious though, I'm pretty sure it's cooked as I deep fried it longer after noticing the sticky texture in the first batch. Thank you!

    • Anita Anita says:

      Hi Kania, my guess would be too much moisture in the mixture, which can happen if the eggs for the last batch were slightly larger than usual, in which case maybe add slightly more flour to reduce the moisture content. For better control, you can try to fry just one meatball first to see if you are satisfied with the texture and taste, and see if any adjustment is needed with the mixture to achieve the desired result. Cheers!

  • Emmeline Kemperyd Emmeline Kemperyd says:

    I had never heard of this dish before - but now I have serious cravings for it?! Especially that spicy tamarind sauce... oh tamarind how I love you. Good job!

  • Cate Cate says:

    Never tried anything like this, but it sounds delicious and perfect as an appetizer or as the main dish with a side! Thanks for sharing!

  • veenaazmanov veenaazmanov says:

    Love the Shrimp and Chicken combination. Sounds like a lovely and interesting snack option for a party. Love your recipe too.

  • Suzy Suzy says:

    These turned out so good! Loved the shrimp and chicken together! Everything was so flavorful!

  • Jacque Hastert Jacque Hastert says:

    These meatballs look incredible! That sauce looks addicting! I can't wait to deep fry these meatballs very soon!

  • Sylvia Sylvia says:

    Hi Anita, fellow Indonesian in the US here and love love all your recipes! Can I substitute tapioca flour with glutinous rice flour? I’m also planning to use only shrimp, do I need to modify the recipes at all? Thank you for sharing all the amazing recipes!

    • Anita Anita says:

      Hi Sylvia, I haven't tried making pempek using glutinous rice flour myself. Based on other people's experiences, the final texture is slightly different compared to the ones using tapioca flour, though taste-wise, they are both similar. You can use only shrimp, just make sure the total weight of the meat is the same. :)

  • mi2kho mi2kho says:

    Anita, can I use ground turkey since it is more readily available? I'm originally from Bangka so I love empe2 of any kind. Thanks for all the wonderful recipe.

    • Anita Anita says:

      I haven't tried with ground turkey before, but I am pretty certain there won't be any issue using ground turkey to replace ground chicken for this recipe. :)

  • Rena Rena says:

    Finally resep empek2. Buat kita2 yang di perantauan susah cari ikan segar, ini alternatif resep yang gampang dan efficient!! Resep Ci Anita memang TOP markotop!! I will definitely try this!! THANK YOU!!

  • Lany Susanto Lany Susanto says:

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