Chargrilled Chicken Satay with Peanut Dipping Sauce
Time Taken: 30 mins prep, minimum 2 hrs marinade, 30 mins cooking
Serves: 4-6 people
A dish of Indonesian origin, this no-fuss food usually comprises small pieces of marinated chicken, pork, or beef grilled over a charcoal fire for BIG flavour. It’s one of the earliest dishes I remember my mom making for me as a kid, and its distinctive bright yellow hue - thanks to the turmeric - is almost unmistakable.
Served up with fresh chilis and a rich, creamy peanut dipping sauce, this chicken satay is a recipe I’ve adopted from my mother while also adding a small few tweaks for optimal flavour. It pairs well with a sharp and tangy pickled salad, and flatbreads on the side for bringing it all together, and absolutely has to be washed down with an ice-cold lager Read on for more...
For the chicken:
- 8 chicken thighs, skinned and de-boned
- 9 chicken drumsticks, skinned and de-boned
- Bamboo skewers, soaked in water
Note: you could also use boneless breasts here, but the dark meat found in thighs and drumsticks (versus the white breast meat) contains more fat, giving you juicier chicken. This is of particular importance when grilling over high heat, as the breast meat will dry out more quickly.
For the marinade + dipping sauce:
- 1 white onion, peeled and cut into quarters
- 4 cloves of garlic, peeled
- 2 sticks of lemongrass, pounded and chopped roughly
- 2 tbsp sesame oil
- 2 tsp salt
- 2 tsp turmeric
- 1 tbsp soy sauce
- 1 tbsp fish sauce
- 2 tsp mirin, rice wine, or red wine vinegar
- 2 tbsp sugar
- 1 tbsp lime juice
- 50ml water
- 1 fresh red chili
- 1tsp each of fennel seeds, coriander seeds, cumin seeds, sichuan peppercorns
- 2 tbsp peanut butter
The first order of business is to get your marinade sorted, which will give the chicken its distinctive flavour and colour while also forming the base of your dipping sauce.
To get started, take your whole seeds - the fennel, coriander, cumin and sichuan peppercorns - and drop them into a dry frying pan over a medium heat. Lay them out as flat as possible, and toast the seeds until fragrant, around 1-2 minutes - once a few begin to pop and/or crackle, it’s time to take them off. Set aside.
Next, you’re going to want to throw all of the other marinade ingredients into a blender or food processor; except for the peanut butter.
Start with the firmer ingredients at the bottom of the blender, the onion, garlic, lemongrass and chili, before adding your dried and toasted spices and then adding the liquids last.
Set your blender to pulse, and slowly work the ingredients into a thick paste. If it’s looking too watery, you can add another onion, or if it’s too thick simply add a splash more water. The consistency you’re looking for is thick but smooth, so much so that it should be able to be spooned out the blender without running off your spoon.
By making the marinade too runny, it’ll fall off your chicken the moment it hits the grill - leading to less flavour and more flare-ups!
Next up, it’s time to prep your chicken. It’s pretty to easy to skin and debone the parts yourself; just make sure you’ve got a sharp knife. The key is to get as close to the bone as possible, leaving as little meat on there as possible. Work slowly and with caution.
There is a great tutorial here from the outstanding Kenji at Serious Eats to help you, but if it’s too tricky, just ask your butcher. As mentioned in the intro, you can also use breasts here, but the dark meat from the legs will give you juicier - and therefore superior - satay. Whether you do it yourself or the butcher does, be sure to keep all the skin and bones to make your own stock!
Once you’re done, cut the chicken into small chunks of roughly the same size and place into a bowl. Pour/spoon all of your marinade over the chicken, give it a good mix and make sure your chicken is fully and evenly coated.
Cover your chicken, and leave it in the fridge to marinate for at least two hours, but preferably closer to four hours. If you’re really in a pinch you could in theory get going right away, but in an ideal world you want to give those flavours a little time to kiss the chicken.
After the marinating period, remove your chicken from the fridge, and begin to work it onto your skewers. The amount of chicken per skewer is up to you. You might want to serve a greater amount of small skewers, or fewer large skewers, but either way you should follow these two tips for success:
- Let your chicken pieces breathe: don’t cram the chicken too close together. This will reduce the amount of surface area that can come into direct contact with your heat source. Less direct contact means more steaming and less charring, and that’s not good when you’re chargrilling something. Make sure each piece of chicken on the skewer has space around it before it goes on the grill.
- Double-thread your chicken: another thing to consider is the security of the chicken on the skewer. The grill is going to get searingly hot, and you’ll want to be moving the chicken regularly while it’s cooking. For that reason it’s important to make sure your chicken is secure, and will move with the skewer without coming loose. To make this happen, stick the skewer through your piece chicken, double it over, and stick the skewer through it again; then slide it down and move onto the next piece.
Transfer your prepped chicken skewers onto a tray, cover, and place back in the fridge.
If you’re using charcoal - and you should be - now is the time to fire up the grill. Fill a chimney around ¾ full, and leave it to get hot. If you’re using a gas grill or an indoor method, simply turn your heat on low and start warming up your cooking area.
The next step, while the grill is heating up, is to make the dipping sauce, and the paste we’ve used to marinate the chicken will form its base.
While many people simply wash leftover marinades down the sink, for fear of raw meat contamination, this is an incredibly wasteful process and doesn’t need to happen. Just like a raw piece of meat, marinades previously containing raw meat simply need to be heated and cooked before they are safe to eat. And with all that flavour in there, why wouldn’t you?
Simply pour all of your leftover chicken marinade into a saucepan, and add your peanut butter. Stir to combine and place over a low heat to warm up and get nice and hot; it should bubble for at least 2-3 minutes to make sure it’s reached a high enough temperature.
By now, your charcoal should be about ready. You want it white-hot before you cook for the best flavour. Once it is, throw it in the base, add your grill grate, and close the lid to let the bars heat up; about 5 minutes.
Keep stirring your sauce. Once it’s fully hot, it should be rich, thick and creamy; if you like it thicker, add more peanut butter or simply some chopped peanuts, or if you like it smoother, just add some more water.
With your sauce nearly there and your grill searing hot, it’s finally time to cook the chicken. Place your skewers over the coals, being sure to leave enough space between them, and cook for around 8 minutes, turning occasionally.