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Eric Akis: Chicken satay, Singapore style

I recently watched an old episode of the late Anthony Bourdain’s CNN television show Parts Unknown where he visited Singapore. As he explored and ate his way around that city-state, it brought back tasty memories of my travels there many years ago.
Chicken satay Succulent Southeast Asian-style chicken satay served with peanut sauce for dipping.

I recently watched an old episode of the late Anthony Bourdain’s CNN television show Parts Unknown where he visited Singapore. As he explored and ate his way around that city-state, it brought back tasty memories of my travels there many years ago.

I, too, ate my way around Singapore and what I was most fond of was their many hawker centres. They are outdoor food courts with numerous stalls each offering a different Southeast Asian-style dish, such as chicken rice, fish-head curry and chili crab.

But what I remember most vividly is the satay. Threading small, marinated pieces of chicken, meat or fish, or prawns, on bamboo skewers is how satay is made. When you see them cooking on a grill in Singapore at night time, the combination of the sultry tropical air, the orangey light from the charcoal-fuelled flames, the alluring scent of the bamboo and the appearance of the mouth-watering, sizzling satay all combine to make you want to eat them, now.

Just thinking of them again made we want to have some and, with no current plans to visit Singapore, I made my own. You’ll find the recipe below along with one for peanut sauce, for dipping.

Before threading on the marinated chicken, you need to soak the bamboo skewers in water to help prevent them from catching on fire when set on the grill. But even when you do that they still can ignite. That explains why in Singapore you see grills with a long narrow strip of metal about 10 to 15 centimetres wide on one side. When the satay is set on the grill, the meat portion is placed over the fire. The wood portion rests on the fire-insulted strip of metal, preventing the exposed part of the skewer from catching on fire.

As noted in a previous story on satay, to recreate this on my propane barbecue, I set a double thick strip of aluminum foil of similar width on the front portion of my grill. I then heat the grill to medium-high and set the meat portion of the skewer over the flame, and the meatless end on the foil. This technique, along with soaking the skewers in water, should prevent the exposed parts of wood from igniting.

Chicken Satay

Small cubes of chicken, spicily marinated Southeast Asian-style, are threaded on skewers and then grilled until charred, succulent and delicious. Serve the satay as an appetizer, or as a main-course, with rice and stir-fried vegetables.

Preparation time: 40 minutes, plus marinating time

Cooking time: about six minutes

Makes: Four servings (five satay each)

2 Tbsp vegetable oil, plus some for grill

2 Tbsp brown sugar

2 large garlic cloves, minced

1 tsp salt, or to taste

1 tsp finely grated fresh ginger

1 tsp ground coriander 1/2 tsp ground cumin

1/2 tsp ground turmeric

1/4 tsp ground cayenne pepper

1 medium lime, finely grated zest and juice of

700 grams (about 10) boneless, skinless chicken thighs, cut into small, about 3/4-inch, cubes 20 bamboo skewers (see Note)

cilantro sprigs or mint sprigs, sliced cucumber and onion, for serving (optional)

• peanut sauce (see recipe below)

Combine the 2 Tbsp vegetable oil, sugar, garlic, salt, ginger, coriander, cumin, turmeric, cayenne and lime zest and juice in bowl large enough to hold the chicken. Add the chicken and turn to coat. Cover chicken and marinate in the refrigerator four hours.

While chicken marinates, soak the skewers in cold water until needed. When chicken has marinated, thread four or five pieces of it on one end of each skewer (see Eric’s options).

Preheat your barbecue or indoor grill to medium high. Lightly oil the bars of the grill. Set on the satay and cook about six minutes, turning occasionally, or until cooked through. Arrange satay on a serving platter and garnish, if desired, with cilantro sprigs (or mint sprigs, cucumber and onion. Serve satay with the peanut sauce, for dipping.

Note: Bamboo skewers are sold at many supermarkets and stores selling kitchenware.

Eric’s options: You can skewer the chicken many hours before cooking the satay. Keep satay refrigerated until ready to grill. Any satay you won’t eat now could be frozen, uncooked. When needed, thaw and grill as directed. Small cubes of beef sirloin, pork leg or lamb leg could be used instead of chicken.

Peanut Sauce

Rich, savoury, peanutty sauce you can dunk the chicken satay in.

Preparation time: Five minutes

Cooking time: a few minutes

Makes: about one cup

1/3 cup peanut butter (see Note 1)

1 (5.6 oz/165 mL) can coconut milk (see Note 2)

1 medium lime, juiced and zested

3 Tbsp soy sauce

1 Tbsp brown sugar

1 Tbsp water

1 tsp finely grated fresh ginger

• pinch ground cayenne pepper

Place the ingredients in a small pot. Set over medium heat, bring to a simmer and whisk until smooth. Simmer two minutes. Serve sauce warm or at room temperature (see Eric’s options).

Note 1: I used local Island Nut Roastery peanut butter when testing this recipe. For more information about it, including stores that sell it, go to their website I’ve also made this sauce with smooth styles of peanut butter.

Note 2: You’ll find smaller sized cans of coconut milk for sale alongside the larger cans of it at some supermarkets. I you can’t find it, buy a larger can, use a scant 3/4 cup of it for the peanut sauce, and save the rest for another use or freeze it for another time.

Eric’s options: You can make the peanut sauce up to a day before needed. If you do, cool it to room temperature and then cover and refrigerate unto needed. When you do need it, warm it up, until fluid again. Thin sauce with a little more water, if you find it thick.

Eric Akis is the author of eight cookbooks. His columns appear in the Life section Wednesday and Sunday.