Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Chicken Satay with Spicy Peanut Sauce

Just a few days ago, out of the blue, I decided--on a whim--to cook a favorite Malaysian dish of mine called chicken satay. I've never attempted to make it before but since I had all the exotic ingredients (lemongrass, tamarind and galangal) on hand, I thought maybe it was finally time to give it a try. As I researched and pulled a couple of authentic-sounding recipes off the internet, I started reminiscing about the last time I ate chicken satay. For some reason, my mind actually drew a blank! Has it really been that long ago that I can't even remember the last time I had it (I hazard a guess of maybe 3-4 years since I last partook but your guess is as good as mine!)?

Satay is the quintessential South-east Asian dish popular in Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore, Thailand and the Philippines. It is essentially charcoal-grilled heavily-marinated meat (could be chicken, beef, pork, venison and sometimes even rabbit) skewered through bamboo sticks and served with a spicy peanut sauce and sliced fresh cucumbers, red onions and rice cakes (also known locally as "ketupat"). As simple as it sounds, satay has its own unique and bold flavors due to the abundant spices used in the marinate and also in the peanut sauce.

First, let's start by preparing the marinate for the chicken. You'll need coriander powder, fresh lemongrass, shallots, garlic, chili powder, turmeric powder, sugar (or the Indonesian sweet sauce, Kecap Manis), salt and oil. Blend all these ingredients together and marinate the chicken with it. For the meat, try to cut it into long strips, making it easier to be skewered. I use both the breast and thigh meat. Leave the marinated meat in the refrigerator overnight or at least 4-5 hours in order to get the proper seasoning of the meat.

Now for the peanut sauce. Start with dried red chilies (they need to be re-hydrated and de-seeded), garlic, shallots, lemongrass, fresh galangal and coriander powder. Blend all these ingredients together and fry it in oil until a deep aromatic smell wafts through the kitchen. Next, add a cup of roasted peanuts (chopped fine or rough depending on your preference), kecap manis, sugar, salt, water and tamarind juice. Taste and season with either more salt or sugar. Let the sauce simmer and cook for a 10-15 minutes until you get a saucy consistency (not too watery).

For the final part, skewer the marinated meat onto the bamboo sticks and start grilling. Cut some fresh cucumber and red onions and serve with the chicken satay and spicy peanut sauce. Try it and I guarantee that you've never tasted anything better!

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