This is a recipe I learned while in Singapore. I attended a fabulous cooking class at the Cookery Magic school. If you find yourself in Singapore and love cooking, I highly recommend booking in and taking a cab out to Ruqxana’s for a class. It’s about 15-20 minutes out of the city. The cab ride only cost about the equivalent of ten Australian dollars each way. Ruqxana was able to fit me in with little notice and I’m glad, because it was a great experience.
I’ve remade this Chicken Satay – just to make sure I could perfect it at home. And I’m happy to say I can! So, now you can too.
Don’t be put off by the long (and unusual) ingredient list. Authentic Asian cooking does mean a trip to an Asian grocer, if, like me, you don’t cook Asian often at home. But, that is part of the fun of it.
500 grams chicken thigh, thinly sliced
bamboo or metal skewers
2 tablespoons oil
a pinch of caster sugar (optional)
salad and rice to serve
For the marinade:
2 stalks lemongrass, white part only
1 small onion
4 cloves garlic
1 teaspoon chilli powder
1/2 teaspoon turmeric powder
2 teaspoons coriander powder
1 teaspoon cumin powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon palm sugar (gula melaka), grated
For peanut sauce:
10-20 dried chillis, soaked in hot water for 20 minutes to soften
1 inch long, thin slice of galangal
2 tablespoons oil
1 tablespoon coriander powder
1 tablespoon tamarind, soaked in 3/4 a cup of water to extract tamarind juice
1/2-1 tablespoon palm sugar (gula melaka), grated
salt, to taste
1/2 cup roasted crushed peanuts
Start by making the marinade for the chicken. You are essentially making a paste with the lemongrass, onion and garlic, and a basic curry powder with the remaining marinade ingredients. Chop the lemongrass as fine as as possible, and then blitz the paste ingredients in a blender or food processor. Then put this mix into a mortar and use a pestle to pound all the flavour out of the ingredients. Ruqxana was insistent that pounding made all the difference in releasing the flavours. And I agree – something different does happen when you pound the ingredients – something which can’t be achieved with electricity alone.
Add the remaining curry powder ingredients: chilli powder, turmeric powder, coriander powder, cumin powder, salt and palm sugar to the mortar and pound and mix some more.
Rub the marinade into the chicken and leave for at least 3-4 hours in the fridge (overnight is best). When the chicken is ready, thread the chicken pieces onto the skewers in a way which maximizes the surface area to the grill (i.e. thread the slices on, folding them back over each other, rather than pushing on big chunks of chicken, as this will help it cook more evenly).
Once the chicken skewers are ready, use a mix of oil (such as rice bran oil), with a little bit of additional caster sugar to brush over the skewers. You can just spray them with oil, but brushing over the sugar oil will help them caramelize nicely on the barbeque.
Heat the barbeque on a medium to high heat and grill the chicken, turning frequently, until cooked through. This will take about 8-10 minutes depending how thick your chicken is.
Meanwhile, prepare your peanut sauce.
Begin by soaking your dried chillis to soften, and preparing your tamarind water. Tamarind water is an odd ingredient in cooking. You buy a block of tamarind, which is dark and sticky and incredibly sour, take a tablespoon of it and soak this in 3/4 of a cup of water. Squish the tamarind around in the water a bit, until the water goes muddy. You use the water, or tamarind juice, but not the solid tamarind in cooking.
Make a paste from the galangal (which is like ginger, but more potent), shallots (the french ones, not the mis-named Australian ones), and dried chillis, by blitzing it up in a food processor or blender first and then pounding it in a mortar with a pestle until all the flavour has been released.
Bring all of your prepared ingredients around your stove top. Crush your roasted peanuts, if you’re doing that yourself, grate your palm sugar and have your chilli paste, tamarind juice, coriander powder, salt and oil at hand.
Season your pan or wok (unfortunately, I live in the electric world, so my pan has better surface heat area than my wok) with a large pinch of salt as it heats to a medium temperature. Add your oil, and wait till that reaches temperature. If you stand a wooden spoon in the oil, it’s reached temperature when it bubbles around the spoon.
Fry the chilli paste in the oil until it is fragrant, and quite frankly, you can’t stand there any longer for your coughing up a storm. Cooking this recipe is great for the sinuses. This will take between 10 and 20 minutes.
Then add the coriander powder and fry for another minute. Add the strained tamarind juice (as much or as little as you like it sour), palm sugar (as much or as little as you like it sweet), and salt to taste. Then, finally, add the peanuts and stir for 2 minutes.
Taste and adjust the flavours so it hits the right balance of hot, sour, sweet and salty for you. If it’s too hot, add sugar. If it feel just like it’s missing something, it’s missing salt.
Serve the sauce at room temperature, over the hot chicken.
The sauce is quite hot (though not as hot as I expected it to be with all that chilli), so it’s very refreshing served with a little cut salad and rice to soak up all the yummy sauce.
Cooking Asian food from first principles at home does take a bit more effort for me, because it doesn’t come naturally with all of the unusual ingredients… but it tasted good! and it was fun to explore the Asian grocers for exciting ingredients. So I encourage you to give first principles Asian cooking a go.