Food for Thought: Betawi Cooking Meets Italian Fare i

By : Petty Elliott | on 3:46 PM June 16, 2013
Category : Life & Style, Food & Drink


For most of us, pucung is an unfamiliar word as it is known by a more colloquial name.

Pucung is a Betawi name for keluak or black nut. The black nut is usually mixed with many different spices to make a delicious earthy, tangy black soup and is most often served with fresh water fish such as gabus .

Sadly, these days it is very difficult to buy the fresh water gabus fish in our supermarket or traditional markets. So I suggest to replace the gabus fish with white or red snapper. You can also replace it with prawns or squid. To make a vegetarian dish, simply replace the fish and seafood with tofu and tempe.

I am exploring Betawi cuisine to celebrate Jakarta’s birthday this month. This is the third recipe of five. For this week’s recipe I will feature the black nut sauce or pucung served with capellini and white snapper. It is certainly something different and it tastes delicious. Enjoy!

Capellini, white snapper fillet with pucung, black nut sauce Betawi style

Traditionally, this fish dish uses plenty of soupy liquid. But instead I choose not to add big quantities of water in order to achieve a thicker saucy texture to serve with sliced snapper fillet and pasta. An alternative is to replace the capellini with rice to make black risotto without black ink squid, which is perfect for those who have seafood allergy. Serves 4-6.


4-6 white snapper fillets at around 120g; salt and black pepper to taste; juice of two limes; 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil.

Paste: 100g of shallots, peeled, 4 cloves of peeled garlic, 3 candle nuts; 5 cm of fresh peeled turmeric; 5 curly red chilies (add more if you like more spice) chopped roughly; 1 tablespoon of ground coriander; 5 black nuts or keluak, crack the shell and remove the soft paste inside; juice of 1 lime; 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil.

Other ingredients: 2 crushed lemon grass stalks, use the white part only; 4 lime leaves; 2 bay leaves or daun salam ; 2 tomatoes, discard the seeds and chop into small cubes; 500ml water; 1 teaspoon of sugar (optional); salt and black pepper to taste.


1. First, prepare the paste. Simply put all the ingredients into a small food processor and blend for a few minutes until you have a fine paste. Alternatively you can use a pestle and mortar to grind all the ingredients finely.

2. Heat a frying pan and add two tablespoons of oil. Add the paste and saute for around 4-5 minutes or until fragrant.

3. Add water, lemon grass and all the other ingredients (except the chopped tomatoes) and simmer for around 25-30 minutes or until you have a nice saucy texture. Season with salt.

4. In the meantime prepare the fish and capellini.

5. Bring water to boil in a medium pan and add 1 tablespoon of olive oil. It takes only two minutes to cook the capellini so prepare the fish first.

6. Season the fish with salt and lime juice. In the meantime, reheat the sauce.

7. Heat a new non-stick frying pan, add a tablespoon of oil and cook the fish for around 3-5 minutes depending on the thickness of the fish. Season with black pepper.

8. Cook the capellini for 2 minutes, strain.

9. Transfer the capellini into the sauce mixture and mix well.

10.Divide the pasta into 4 or 6 individual serving dishes. Place the fish on top. Garnish with chopped tomatoes and serve immediately.

This is an easy dish to make, but sure to please a big crowd.

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