A perennial childhood favourite of mine, sate is a true South East Asian classic.
Perhaps the ultimate skewered meat treat, sate is often considered more of a snack than an actual meal in itself and is typically ordered as a side dish or “starter”. Sate is also a popular option for young children as the meat is sweet and irresistibly flavoured, without being too spicy – great for fussy eaters!
Whilst beef and chicken are by far the most popular varieties of sate, the use of mutton and goat meat is not entirely uncommon. Personally, I’ve always preferred chicken sate over beef, as it seems to fare better over the hot coals and the inherent blandness of chicken seems to marry better with the flavours of the marinade. Also at least you know what you are getting with chicken (for the most part anyway). The daging (i.e. meat) version of sate is, by definition, a tad ambiguous and there have just been too many scandals where meat of a dubious nature has been passed off as beef. Trust me, stick to the chicken lest you are partial to the odd bit of horse meat.
At any rate, it turns out that making a decent stick of chicken sate at home is actually pretty damn hard! It isn’t that the recipe itself is particularly complicated or that the main ingredients are impossible to source, the problem lies in recreating the way the sate is actually cooked. Expertly grilled over searing hot coals on a specially designed oblong barbecue and basted with a brush made of lemongrass, the real deal is nothing short of chargrilled-perfection!
After many attempts at recreating the optimal cooking environment for sate, I must confess that I still haven’t got it quite right. Alas sometimes you just need to say “c‘est la vie” and except that perfection isn’t always an option when recreating your favourite dishes. Luckily, however, sate doesn’t have to be perfect to still be pretty damn amazing and totally worth making!
So here are a few tips on making the near-perfect sate:
Firstly, soak your bamboo sticks overnight otherwise they will burn and break off. Make sure the sticks are completely submerged in the water, I use a tall bottle with a stopper to soak mine in.
Secondly, marinate your meat overnight in the fridge – your sate will be all the better for your patience.
Finally, make a basting brush out of the outer skins of the lemongrass; it may seem a tad over-involved to go to such extremes, but it’s worth it. To make the brush, simply shred the reserved lemongrass lengthwise and then tie at the top with some kitchen string. Give the “brush” a very light bash with a meat mallet just before using.
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Sate Ayam (Chicken Satay): Makes approximately 16 sticks of satay
16 bamboo satay sticks (soaked overnight)
- 600g – 700g boneless chicken thighs
- 2 inner stalks of lemongrass, finely chopped (outer layers removed and reserved)
- 2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
- 3cm ginger, peeled and finely chopped
- 1 tsp. ground coriander
- 1/2 tsp. ground cumin
- 1 tsp. ground turmeric
- 1 tsp. ground fennel
- 1 tsp. salt
- 2 tbsp. castor sugar
- 2 tbsp. vegetable oil
- 100ml coconut milk
- 1 tbsp. castor sugar
- Start by grinding the lemongrass, garlic and ginger in a heavy pestle and mortar. Pound until everything is combined. Decant the mixture into a large bowl
- Add the ground ingredients, salt and sugar to the marinade – mix to combine. Finally add the oil and stir
- Chop the chicken into a mixture of small strips and bite-sized cubes
- Add the chopped chicken to the marinade and, using your hands, mix thoroughly. Cover the bowl and leave in the fridge for at least 4 hours, but overnight is best
- Carefully thread the meat onto the soaked bamboo sticks. Depending on the length of your bamboo sticks, aim for about 10 cm of meat per stick. Don’t over-pack the meat as this will increase the time needed for the chicken to cook through and you risk drying the meat out in the process
- Grill the satays over a high heat, preferably on a braai/barbecue. Turn the satays frequently and baste liberally with the sweetened coconut milk. The satays should take between 6 to 8 minutes to cook, but always double-check to make sure that the chicken is cooked all the way through before serving
- Serve hot
Serve with: Sate is always served with red onion, cucumber and peanut sauce