Marinated meats grilled over glowing coals, called satays in Southeast Asia, have an irresistible combination of sweetness, heat, acid, and spice that is downright addictive.
Travel to Indonesia, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, Bali and Cambodia, and you'll find these popular snacks on every corner.
However, you don’t have to take a long plane trip to enjoy these tasty bites. You can recreate a version in your own backyard on your grill—whether it’s gas or charcoal.
What Is Satay?
“Satay” refers to the skewered meats that spend time in a salty, sweet, and spicy marinade before grilling. That marinade usually contains fish sauce, palm sugar or brown sugar, fresh ginger, and lime juice or rice vinegar. There’s also a little heat from sriracha or hot chili sauce.
Marinating time is an hour or two, or up to overnight, so you can get a head start for a party if you like.
Satay sauce, on the other hand, is what you dip those juicy morsels into once they are grilled. The most popular of these involves peanuts spiked with lime juice, sriracha and hoisin sauce, which I've recreated below.
You can get a head start on the dipping sauce, since it will easily keep for 3 to 4 days in the refrigerator. If you have leftover sauce, stir it into rice, slather it on sandwiches, put it in salad dressing, or toss it with your favorite Asian noodles.
What Are the Ingredients for Satay?
Many satays contain some combination of shallots, galangal, lemongrass, fenugreek, coriander, kaffir lime leaves, coconut milk and turmeric. So as to not send you on an exhaustive grocery shopping trip, I’ve adapted this recipe to use ingredients that are easier to find on this continent, but still have a similar flavor profile.
Although these satays may not taste exactly like a street-stand offering halfway across the world, they’ll be good. And you won’t be able to stop at eating just one.
The Best Meat for Satay
Actually, all kinds of meats can be used—pork, steak and chicken are obvious choices. Even mussels and shrimp can be used!
Chicken is the easiest meat to start with because it is so readily available. You can choose to use chicken breast (white meat) or thigh (dark meat), depending on your preference. Cut the meat into strips and marinate them.
Satay Skewers on the Grill
In Asia, many of the roadside stands use hot coals from wood fires, but both gas and charcoal grills will give you the same results.
The grilling is brief, so the coals or the temperature of the gas grill should be very hot. There’s not more to it than that!
What if I Don't Have a Grill?
A broiler, which I contend is the most underused piece of equipment in your kitchen, is a fine option if you don’t have an outdoor grill.
Place the skewers on a broiler pan or baking sheet lined with nonstick foil and set an oven rack close to the broiler element. Watch carefully and turn when the meat is browned on one side, usually after 3 to 4 minutes, depending on the heat of your broiler and the space between the meat and the heating element.
A stovetop cast iron grill pan will also work—set it over high heat, oil the “grates” and cook until browned and cooked through.
More Skewers and Kebabs!
- Vietnamese-Style Sticky Chicken Skewers
- Beef Kebabs
- Greek Lemon Chicken Skewers with Tzatziki Sauce
- Korean Beef Skewers
- Salmon Teriyaki Skewers with Pineapple
Grilled Chicken Satay With Peanut Sauce
- For the chicken
- 1/2 cup brown sugar
- 1/4 cup unseasoned rice vinegar
- 1/4 cup lime juice
- 1/4 cup fish sauce
- 2 tablespoons Sriracha
- 2 tablespoons finely chopped peeled fresh ginger
- 1 1/2 pounds skinless, boneless chicken breasts or thighs, cut into 1 1/2-inch-wide strips
- Vegetable oil, for the grill
- For the peanut dipping sauce
- 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
- 1 bunch scallions, finely chopped, including some of the green part
- 3 tablespoons chunky peanut butter, preferably all-natural and sugar-free
- 3 tablespoons hoisin sauce
- 1 tablespoon sriracha, or to taste
- 1/4 cup lime juice
- 1/3 to 1/2 cup water
- To serve
- Cooked rice
- Sliced cucumbers
- Fresh pungent greens such as Thai basil or arugula
Soak the bamboo skewers:
If using bamboo skewers, soak them in warm water for 30 minutes.
Marinate the chicken:
In a bowl large enough to hold the chicken, stir together the brown sugar, vinegar, lime juice, fish sauce, sriracha, and ginger. Add the chicken strips and toss to coat.
Cover and marinate for at least 1 hour, or up to overnight. You can also marinate them in a resealable gallon-sized plastic bag to save space in the fridge, if you prefer.
Make the dipping sauce:
In a skillet over medium heat, heat the oil. Add the scallions, and cook, stirring for 30 seconds or so, until wilted. Stir in the peanut butter, hoisin sauce, sriracha, lime juice, and 1/3 cup of the water.
Cook, stirring with a whisk, just until the peanut butter melts into the sauce and the sauce is blended. Add more water, one tablespoon at a time, until the sauce is the consistency of heavy cream. Taste and add additional hoisin, Sriracha, or lime juice to taste.
Transfer to a bowl to serve, or cool, transfer to an airtight container, and refrigerate for up to a week.
Prepare the skewers:
Thread 1 to 2 slices of the marinated chicken onto each skewer. Set them on a baking sheet.
Prepare the grill:
For charcoal grills: Light one chimney full of coals and when they are covered with ash, spread them out evenly. Allow the grill grates to heat for 5 minutes. With a pair of tongs, dip a folded square of paper towel in oil and generously oil the grates.
For a gas grill: Heat the grill on high heat for about 20 minutes. With a pair of tongs, dip a folded square of paper towel in oil and generously oil the grates.
Grill the chicken:
Grill the chicken for about 3 minutes per side, or until browned on both sides and the chicken is cooked through. Transfer to a platter and rest for 5 minutes before serving.
Serve as an appetizer with the dipping sauce, or with rice or cucumbers and greens for a meal.