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Chicken satay

Chicken satayWhen we visit family in Malaysia, we usually make a beeline to the nearest hawker stall and gorge ourselves on satay – sticks of marinated meat, grilled over charcoal and served with a peanut sauce. The very best I’ve ever had was in Ipoh, an old tin-mining town, where an old satay man (so old he was already working there on my Dad’s arrival in Malaysia aged seven – on seeing Dad, now bald and surrounded by his grown-up children, he still calls him China Boy) still makes satay on Jalan Bandar Timeh.

This is one of a few recipes which I love so much that I can be found back home, umbrella in one hand, hunched over a flickering barbecue in the very worst of weather. Sometimes an urge for satay will hit and there’s really not much I can do about it; it’s drive the hundred miles to Oriental City or make some at home.

For just this eventuality, there was a pot of palm sugar, fresh turmeric roots and lots of fresh lemongrass in the fridge. You really do need the fresh lemongrass (which you should be able to find at the supermarket), but if you’re stuck miles from an Oriental grocer, you can substitute a mixture of molasses and soft brown sugar for the palm sugar, and use ground, dried turmeric instead of the roots.

Some Chinese Malaysian satay vendors will put a small piece of fat pork in-between each piece of lean meat to add flavour and moisture. This is quite incredibly delicious. If you can find a strip of pork fat (I wish I could), just snip it into small pieces and marinade it with the meat, then construct the sticks with alternate bits of fat and lean meat.

To make about a kilo of satay you’ll need:

Marinade
Juice of 2 limes
1 teaspoon chilli powder
3 cloves garlic, crushed
2 turmeric roots (about the size of the top two joints of a woman’s little finger), grated
2 inches from the fat end of a lemongrass stalk, grated
1 tablespoon peanut oil
4 tablespoons palm sugar
8 tablespoons light soy sauce (I used Kikkoman)
1 teaspoon sesame oil

Meat
1kg chicken, lamb or pork (I used chicken)

Satay sauce
2 tablespoons peanut oil
4 shallots, chopped very finely
2 cloves of garlic, crushed
3 turmeric roots, grated
½ teaspoon ground chilli
2 teaspoons freshly ground coriander seeds
2 inches grated lemongrass
3 tablespoons smooth peanut butter
1 can coconut milk (preferably without emulsifiers)
1 teaspoon salt

Chop the meat into bite-sized pieces and leave in a bowl with all the marinade ingredients for two hours. (This is a very penetrating marinade and you may find the flavour too strong if you leave it for longer.) Reserve the marinade and thread the meat on bamboo skewers.

Make the sauce by frying the shallots, garlic, chilli, turmeric and coriander in oil until the shallots are soft and translucent. Add the peanut butter, salt and coconut milk along with six tablespoons of the reserved marinade and simmer hard for five minutes. Turn the heat down to a gentle simmer and cook for another fifteen minutes (get someone else to watch it and stir every few minutes to stop the sauce catching) while you go outside and grill the meat.

SatayTake another lemongrass stick, cut off the bottom half centimetre and then bang the end of the stick hard with something heavy. The end of the stick will resemble a brush. You can use this to baste the chicken on the barbecue with some of the remaining marinade. Keep cooking until the chicken is shiny and starting to caramelise at the edges. (In Malaysia you are likely to see satay makers fanning the charcoal on their little grill to make it hotter. I find a large, well-ventilated barbecue with plenty of charcoal is usually hot enough.)

When the chicken is done, serve it immediately with the hot satay sauce. In Malaysia you’d eat this with ketupat (compressed squares of rice), chunks of raw shallot and of cucumber, all of which are dipped in the sauce. We ate it with grilled sweetcorn, smacked cucumber which I made with more palm sugar, and a bowl of white rice with some of the sauce thrown over it – delicious.

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13 comments to Chicken satay

  • In South Africa we have a Cape Malay dish called Sosaties (name is probably a corruption of satay) where pieces of marinated lamb or mutton are threaded on skewers and grilled on a braai (barbeque). There are umpteen recipes for sosaties, but one of the ones I have also calls for small pieces of fat to be skewered in between each cube of meat. The marinade also calls for tumeric. When I’ve finished moving house I will make some and put them on my blog so you can compare!

  • Liz

    That sounds really interesting – I’d love to see how similar the recipes are.(I’ve loved every Cape Malay recipe I’ve tried.) Best of luck with the move!

  • H

    Totally unrelated to this recipe – but in France last week I tried eating prawns with shell on. Interesting and not at all unpleasant, but overall think I prefer peeling them. I chickened out of eating the heads though!!

  • Liz

    Hurrah Homer! Make sure GSE knows about this – she’s been completely traumatised ever since I mentioned eating the shells.

    Shells are usually tastiest if the prawn has been cooked by frying or grilling – boiled prawn shells can get a bit boingy. (The heads still taste great, though.)

  • YM insists on eating prawn shells, whether boiled or not. He does get a bit freaked out when I eat the eyes, though…

    Satay was the first ‘foreign’ food I ever had (‘foreign’ in inverted commas because I’d been living in Germany for over a year at the time, but somehow wurst just aren’t exciting enough to be properly exotic). It was in an Indonesian restaurant across the border in Holland, and I don’t think I’d ever been quite so excited by chicken!

  • I lived in Ipoh for 3 months during my gap year, working in a school for kids with disabilities, and one of the highlights was the food. It is simply amazing =) Even better than hawker food from the stalls was the chicken with beansprouts and ho-fun noodle soup – the speciality of Ipoh. One of the things I learnt was that because Ipoh is surrounded by limestone mountains it lends a special quality to the water, which means that the beansprouts are really plump and crunchy, and the ho-fun is actually the most delicious ho-fun in the world. I want to go back to Ipoh now!

    And for something a little closer to home, if you’re willing to drive into London, head to Queensway and go to Kiasu – it’s a really authentic Malaysian/Singaporean restaurant that has just opened up. I went there last night and felt like I was back in Malaysia. Most delicious pork satay, roti pratha, kuey teow, wat tan hor and hainanese chicken rice I’ve had in London. The only place I’ve found in London that serves authentic Malaysian cooking.

    Even better, the boss was the guy who’s doing the massive Singaporean chilli crab cook-off thing this weekend, so wasn’t even there, and the food was STILL top-notch. Highly recommended.

  • Suddenly I have the nastiest feeling I know what I’m being served with next weekend.

  • Liz

    Gah! There is nothing better in the whole world than ho fun in Ipoh. You’re totally right about the water – something deeply weird and chemical is going on. which makes the noodles both soft and toothsome.

    The beansprouts are wonderful too, but in a way which is totally divorced from the water. It turns out that they make them fat and crunchy by growing them in the dark *under weights*. The idea is that you place a flat board on top of your sprouts and weigh it down. You end up with fat, crisp sprouts of a very distinct character.

    God, I need a holiday.

  • Really? That’s crazy.

    I wonder if the next time I go back to Ipoh I’ll be able to smuggle some beansprouts and ho-fun back home… maybe I’ll just go eat my weight in hawker food.

    Thanks for the knowledge =)

  • do you have any suggestions for a vegetable or fish subsitute? I love chicken satay, but my boyfriend is vegetarian and I want to be able to share with him! :)

  • Liz

    Hi Sarah! Mushrooms, shallot segments, courgettes and peppers are good cooked in this marinade, as are prawns – and while a skewer bristling with veggies isn’t exactly satay, it’s still pretty darn tasty.

  • This sure brings back memories of growing up in Jay Bee m’sia.I remember as a kid waiting for the satay man to turn up on his ”Boon Siew” Honda C70 with the satay rack lighted and in-situ on the back of his bike with the red hot ambers shooting out.I actuall bought a couple of the original satay bbq rack when on hols in m’sia with the blonde and our kids and they thought I was mad!!Never mind,they are all vegies so I get to scoff the lot when I need my satay fix.

  • [...] food, you’re likely to recognise some of what arrives on the table. Goz’s chicken satay, lemongrass-fragrant and spiked with peanut sauce, is terrific, little nuggets of skin left on so [...]

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