Satay or Sate is a dish you’ll find throughout Southeast Asia and Indonesia that involves marinated meat or poultry, threaded onto skewers and charred over a hot grill.
This recipe departs from typical satay in that it features tofu rather than meat as the star ingredient. Though mild in flavor, tofu absorbs the marinade like a champ and remains tender even under the heat of the grill. I serve it with a spicy peanut sauce made from ingredients you can easily find at a big box supermarket.
The marinade is made with fresh ginger and garlic, along with curry powder and turmeric for color and flavor. It’s used to both marinate the tofu and serve as a base for the spicy peanut sauce. You can make the recipe entirely vegan if you desire. Just replace the fish sauce with soy sauce.
What is Traditional Satay?
Satay, spelled Sate in Indonesia, is traditionally marinated meat, woven through a skewer and grilled. It’s usually served with any number of sauces and can be enjoyed as a main meal or snack.
It’s a distant cousin to the Middle Eastern kabob with seasonings and sauces that vary by region. Before grilling, the meat bathes in a marinade involving any number of ingredients, some of which are coconut milk, ginger, fish sauce, tamarind, lime juice, curry, soy sauce, and turmeric.
You’ll find it at street vendors, night markets, and restaurants, often with a sauce for dipping, such as peanut, soy, or pineapple.
A Healthy Way to Satay
Swapping tofu for meat or chicken creates a plant-based plate that is low in saturated fat.
Tofu is a nutrient-dense food that delivers plenty of protein, along with good-for-you phytochemicals. When processed with calcium, which many brands of tofu are, it also provides a meaningful dose of this important bone-builder (just look for calcium among the list of ingredients).
The Best Tofu for Satay
It’s important to use the right type of tofu for this recipe. Look for extra-firm, which is sturdy enough to hold up to the heat of the grill.
The recipe calls for one 14-ounce package, which is the size typically found in plastic tubs in the refrigerated section of the market. This size makes for nice strips when cut and speared onto skewers.
That said, the recipe is flexible, so if you can’t find this particular size, a different block of tofu will do as long as it’s extra-firm. It’s also a recipe that can be doubled or tripled if serving a crowd.
Tips for Grilling Tofu
Grilling tofu isn’t too tricky, but because it has minimal fat, it can stick to the grill if you don’t follow a few ground rules.
- Be sure to blot the tofu well with paper towels first. Drying the tofu also helps it soak up the tasty marinade.
- Get your grill good and hot. Once your gas is on or your coals are ready, give those grates a good 10 minutes to heat up.
- Oil your grill generously with vegetable oil right before you lay down the skewers.
- Resist the urge to flip the skewers too soon. You want the tofu to get solid grill marks and form a sort of crust so that it pulls fairly easily off the grate. A metal spatula may help if need be.
If You Don’t Have a Grill
If you don’t have access to a grill or want to make this during cold weather months, use a well-oiled grill pan or cook the skewers under a broiler, being sure to flip them halfway through. The cooking time will be similar to a standard grill, so follow the instructions accordingly.
Can I Make This with Chicken Instead?
If tofu isn’t your jam, chicken works well in its place. Use one pound of skinless, boneless chicken breasts or thighs cut into 1 1/2-inch-wide strips. Grill over high heat until the chicken is cooked through, about three minutes per side.
A Great Make-Ahead Dish
Much of the work of this satay can be knocked out ahead of time. You can get the tofu marinating and make the peanut sauce up to a day in advance. Cover both with plastic wrap and store in the fridge. Pull them out about an hour before you’re ready to grill.
Satay makes a tasty appetizer as is. It can also be part of a main dish supper, served with steamed rice, a favorite salad, such as this cucumber one, or grilled zucchini or peppers (which are excellent drizzled with peanut sauce).
Got Leftover Sauce?
If you have leftover peanut sauce, it’s your lucky day. It’s delicious! Enjoy it within a few days as a dip for crunchy vegetables, spooned over steamed broccoli, or tossed with hot noodles, halved snap peas, and a splash of sesame oil.
Grilled Tofu Satay (Sate) with Spicy Peanut Sauce
This recipe will feed 4 as a main dish.
- 1 (14-ounce) block extra-firm tofu
- 1-inch piece fresh ginger, grated on a microplane or minced
- 2 large cloves garlic, grated on a microplane or minced
- 1 1/2 teaspoons yellow curry powder
- 1 teaspoon ground turmeric
- 1 tablespoon fish sauce
- 1 1/2 tablespoons lime juice
- 2 tablespoons packed brown sugar
- 2 teaspoons sriracha
- 1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil
- 1/4 cup creamy peanut butter
- 1/4 cup coconut milk
- Salt, to taste
- Vegetable oil, for the grill
- 2 tablespoons roughly chopped cilantro (optional)
- Cooking equipment
- 20 (10-inch) bamboo skewers
Soak the bamboo skewers:
Soak the bamboo skewers in water while preparing the tofu and peanut sauce.
Drain, cut, and dry the tofu:
Drain the tofu from its packaging and cut into 10 slices (about ⅓-inch thick) along the shortest edge so they look like little decks of cards. Cut each slab in half to create narrow strips of tofu.
Lay the tofu in a single layer between two stacks of paper towels. Press down to absorb any remaining liquid. Transfer tofu strips to an 8x8-inch baking pan.
Make the marinade:
In a small bowl, whisk the ginger, garlic, curry powder, turmeric, fish sauce, lime juice, brown sugar, and sriracha until smooth. Pour half the marinade into a separate medium bowl and set aside. You will use it to make the sauce.
Add sesame oil to marinade and coat tofu:
Add the sesame oil into the small bowl with the marinade, whisk to combine. Drizzle the marinade with the sesame oil over the tofu, making sure to flip the tofu strips over to coat all the sides.
While the tofu marinates, make the peanut sauce:
Add the peanut butter and coconut milk to the marinade you set aside in the medium bowl and whisk until smooth. Add an extra 1/2 teaspoon or more sriracha if you want a spicier sauce.
Prepare the grill:
You always want to start with a clean grill. If using a charcoal grill, get the coals going until covered in ash and then spread them out.
If using gas, open the lid and light it. Set it to medium heat. Close the lid and give it 10 minutes to preheat with the lid closed, aiming for 350 to 400° F.
Spear tofu onto skewers and season:
While the grill heats, carefully spear the skewers through the center of the tofu strips. Season all sides of the tofu skewers with salt to taste.
Brush grates with vegetable oil:
Just before putting the skewers on the grill, brush the grate with vegetable oil or rub with an oil-soaked paper towel using a pair of metal tongs.
Grill the tofu skewers:
Lay down the skewers, cover the grill, and cook until the tofu shows distinct grill marks and lifts off the grate with relative ease, about 5 minutes.
Flip skewers, with the aid of a metal spatula if needed, and grill until well-marked and easy to lift, another 4 to 5 minutes.
Garnish and serve:
Transfer skewers to a platter. Garnish with cilantro, if desired, and serve with the peanut sauce.