What is Satay – The world’s best street food

It’s a bit greasy to start with, it’s hearty, it’s full with flavor, its sauce is sublime, creamy with crunch and pack with greatness. It’s meat on a stick, it is SATAY! The ultimate street food you will ever eat in your life.
Believe me, when I described it with those adjectives, in fact, those words might be an understatement to its sublime taste in its simplicity and authenticity.

This is the food that I crave for whenever I am away from home. Its aromatic smell makes it an awesome one bite wonder (ok, for you that have a small mouth may have to take a few bites though).

what is satay

This is Satay – meat on a stick, with peanut dipping sauce, garnish with side fresh cucumber and onion

An authentic Malaysian food

As we all know, there are few subjects in this world that could start a prolong argument, be it politics, religion and so on, we all love to argue right? and I am not interested in starting another debate on which country owns Satay? It’s a ridiculous topic. Of course, you will have Thailand version of Satay which I believe a little bit different from the Malaysian version in terms of its appearance and taste. Why do I say so? because I have tasted so many Thai Satay, they are good, but in term of taste wise, I found them a little mild compared to the Malaysian Version.

We also have in this world, the Singaporean version of it and Indonesian version of it. To be frank, I never tasted Singaporean and Indonesian Satay, I bet they taste the same, yeah maybe if you want to look at the nitty gritty, the taste might be slightly different due to the type of spices used in them, but really, why do we have to put borders? They are all manmade lines to divide people with the same root and culture and actually, Satay proves that we are all the same people, the same breed eating the same thing.

However, I am proud to say that this dish is something that is really dear to the Malaysians’ heart. It is the favourite food from kids to the elderly, even we are Malay, Chinese or Indian, it does not matter because we all love Satay very much. Thus, I would have to say that it is an authentic Malaysian cuisine that you must try once you are in Malaysia just to get the hint of what is it like to be a Malaysian.

Of Chicken Satay and Peanut Sauce

Let’s go further into the topic, what makes its so good? My philosophy is simple – anything on a skewer that cooked on open fire especially for this case using charcoal will have the greatest possibility to taste great. The concept is already 90% tasty, you just have to execute the other 10% right by making sure all those ingredients were cook right.

Usually, the traditional Satay will use Chicken as the meat. You are wrong if you think it will be boring because it is white meat. That’s why people use the thigh part with more fat content when cooking Satay. Never ever use chicken breast! It will dry out easily. Oh yeah, one Satay Master advice; if you find your Satay is made from chicken breast, it is an alarm signal to that pseudo-satay dish. It is not an authentic one, leave them alone and go find another seller or Satay place.

Although Chicken is the primary version, it is common to see Satay made up from

  • Beef, the locals called it as satay daging
  • Lamb/Mutton, great one!
  • Rabbit, yeah I know, we got bunnies Satay, how cool is that?
  • Beef tripe, oh man! seriously you got to try this, if you never had offal before, this will be a great introduction
  • Ostrich, I think I had ostrich satay before, but can’t recall the taste, a little bit hard to find, but it is available.
  • Pork, for you that eat pork, you could find this from Chinese Restaurant or hawkers. I would say as most foods in Malaysia are Halal, then only places with predominant Chinese people will sell Pork Satay.
  • Chicken liver and gizzard, more offals! I personally never try these yet, can be found in restaurant that specialised in satay
  • Fish, I think this is not the mass favourite though, the marinade usually goes well with meat.

How To Make Satay?

To simplify things, I will separate the satay making process into three parts. Don’t worry, this is not the recipe yet, I will share it afterwards. In general, the process can be divided into

1) Marinating the meat

 – Basically, this is the preparation part, you have to cut the meat into cubes first, or at least satay-sized meats
– Prepare the marinade and let it soaked all the flavours for at least a day!

What is Satay

Satay on fire!!

2) Skew the meat

 – Basically, this is the hard part which makes Satay so special. It is because of the human touch in it. Each and every piece of Satay need to be put into sticks and I can guarantee that this is a very labor tiring process. I used to make and sell Satay during college years before, I surrender, I don’t want to work as Satay guy anymore. It’s tiring, however, as all of these beautiful pieces of Satay are handmade, you will never have that artificial or industrial taste to it!
– One key trick to making your Satay great is to alternate a piece of meat with a piece of fat, maybe not a block piece, rather a slice of fat. For example, if you skew a Chicken Satay, alternate a cube of thigh meat with a slice of its skin of chicken fat that you must also marinate together. Never throw away those fats! (Thank me later guys!)
– 
Usually, the traditional version of Satay will use sticks that made up from coconut leaves. However, if you do not have it, find any long wooden stick. Metal skewers will not make it taste the same. Oh yeah, about Thai Satay, one of the difference is when they use lemongrass to skew the meat, that makes the taste different too. If you cannot find the wooden stick, I suggest you find it in Chinatown or any Chinese groceries, they should have it in store.

3) The fun part, grilling the Satay!

 – If you or your family often held BBQ parties or dinners, this will be a great addition to the menu. Not only it is fun, it also creates the bond between people. I love BBQ dinner very much.
– The pro tip for grilling. DO NOT USE OVEN! No. never use the oven for your Satay, it will not taste the same. Or do not grill it in the pan, in the skillet or whatever. The simple rule is to make an open fire from CHARCOAL and grill it until it is cooked. You have to keep turning it upside down every minute to prevent it from burning!
– When grilling it, it is also very important to keep glazing the Satay with oil. In order to get the authentic taste, take a lemongrass, crush it, the head of the lemongrass (IDK if you call it as head, lol), and use it as the brush to glaze you Satay before you turn them. It sounds so complicated right, but you will get the technique over time. Just learn from this pro in the video below

How fascinating is that to you? This is an example of how a street hawker cook and make satay to order. You will get the fresh one every time you buy them, that why it is always amazing!

Easy Chicken Satay Recipe

Ingredients

  • 1 kg Chicken Thigh (diced into cubes)
  • Wooden sticks (soaked it with water overnight to prevent it burns when grilling)

Marinade

  • 3 cm of Galangal (if you have no idea what is it, just buy it from amazon.com – here)
  • 4 cm of Ginger
  • 5 cloves of Garlic
  • 8 pieces of shallots
  • 3 cm of turmeric (or 2 spoonful of turmeric powder)
  • 3 pieces of lemongrass – slice the white part only
  • 1/2 inch thick slice of palm sugar – get it from amazon.com/here

Dried spices (to be blended and added into the marinade)

  • 3 spoons of coriander seeds
  • 3 spoons of cumin powder
  • 2 spoons of  of cumin seeds
  • Salt and sugar to taste
  • 2 spoons of cooking oil

Take all the dry ingredients, toasted in on a pan, then blend it with cooking oil before adding them into the marinade

Glaze (to be used during grilling)

  • 1 spoon of sugar
  • 2 spoons of cooking oil
  • A piece of lemongrass, crushed at the top (to be used as the brush)
  • 1 pieced of nutmeg (crushed or blended)

As you can see, there are quite a lot of herbs used in this recipe, the most important herb is cumin and galangal, make sure you use it. Plus, please taste your marinade and add enough salt in it, you do not want bland satay.

Chicken Satay Peanut Sauce Recipe

As I said before, your Satay dish will not complete with its special creamy and nutty sauce. People also eat satay with Nasi Himpit or Ketupat. Hurrmm, how to describe these . Oh my god, Ketupat deserves an article of its own. It is a very authentic Malay dish as well!

Basically it is rice cooked in special mold, traditional way is using young coconut leaves that were craft into lattices. Then it is cooked with a lot of water until the rice loses its grainy shape. It will be left to cool overnight. When serving, you just have to remove the lattice and then cut the rice into cubes so you can stick it with your satay skewer. Sounds complicated right? Usually I bought an instant Nasi Himpit or Ketupat which I can just put it into boiling water until it hardens, let it cool then cut it into cubes. Lucky you, I actually found instant ketupat in Amazon.com. You can buy it online – thus do not worry that you have to find young coconut leaves and craft it yadad yadaa yadaa..Just buy it online! It tasted the same as they infused some aromatic Pandan leaf scent into it too. Grab them here.

chicken satay peanut sauce recipe

That white cubes are Ketupat, which is rice cubes. You can eat them with the Peanut Sauce, while waiting your Satay to be cooked!

Ingredients A

  • 1 kg of peanuts
  • A handful of dried chilies, remove its seeds, soaked in hot water for 30minutes and blended into fine paste
  • 3 slices of palm sugar (from satay recipe above)
  • 1 cup of Tamarind Juice
  • Salt to taste

Ingredients B

  • 14 pieces of shallots
  • 7 cloves of Garlic
  • 2 inches of Ginger
  • 2 inches of Galanga;
  • 2 pieces of lemongrass

Cooking steps:

  1. Fry your peanuts in a pan with cooking oil. Do not deep fry them, just put the oil until all of them just submerged in it. Pro-tip, use a small pan, so you do not have to waste so many oil, you can fry them in batches.
  2. Once it turn into golden brown, drain them, let it cool a little bit and then blend it into coarse peanut powder. Not too fine until it become a paste but not too coarse.
  3. Chop ingredients B finely, then, hit up some cooking oil then saute them until they turn slightly brown and smells awesome. Don’t burn them.Turn off the fire and put all of these item in a blender or food processor with some water. Blend them into fine paste.
  4. Heat up some cooking oil, put blended ingredient B first, stir them for a while. Then add blended chili paste, fry them on medium heat together until you can see the cooking oil starts to emerge on top when they all simmer. This is the most important part. (This is actually the recipe to Sambal, you are making Sambal from scratch! Kudos)
  5. Put your crushed peanuts and put enough water in it. More water means your sauce will become more watery, just watch out the consistency, too much water will not make the sauce to coat your Satay. Let them boil under low heat until everything simmers.
  6. Put the rest of Ingredients A and adjust the taste to your liking using salt and sugar. Keep cooking until the oil emerges to the top (this is the key to know when your sauce is ready). As you can see in the picture above, there is layer of oil on the top of the sauce. You want to recreate it the same way.

Serve your satay with the peanut sauce and that rice cubes together on a plate with sliced cucumber and raw red onion as the garnish. If you do it right, you will have the same taste like the one in Malaysia.

Hope that you will try these recipes and maybe share the picture below in the comment section.
Thank you for reading this article.

Posted in Foods, Travel Malaysia Guide.

14 Comments

  1. The thing I like most about eating satay is the PEANUT SAUCE! I’ll have it with bee hoon too! I love the sauce with the satay, with the ketupat, and if you can suggest more awesome combinations, I’ll be bound to try it next time.

    Thanks for the recipe. Making satay is a lot of effort and I think your recipe proves that. But the reward is so great! I’m Chinese by the way.

    • Hi Regina,
      Satay + Bee hoon is a great combo.
      Peanut sauce + ketupat + rendang + lemang is another win combo as well.
      These dishes are very common during celebration period but you could also find it on normal days.

      Thanks

  2. Thanks for this mouth-watering article. I’ve always loved Satay and once cooked Satay on a cooking school honeymoon trip in Bali. Reading your article made me miss it so much, that I will follow your instructions and cook it tomorrow. Oh and the peanut sauce, that topped it all. Now I have the recipe for it, it;s chow time. Thanks for this. Super appreciated it.

  3. Interesting article on satay, I have read some articles on your country from time to time, beautiful scenery you have and many different cultures living all on one island. You must be able to get all types of food in your country, this meat dish sounds very tasty could it be prepared in the USA to taste as good as in your country

    • Hi Jeffrey, thanks for your comment.
      If you follow the recipe closely, especially getting those authentic ones like the roots and palm sugar, you will get the exact same taste. Plus, make sure you grill it the right way.
      Hope you will try it soon and share the result here.

      Thanks

  4. Hi Mus, fully agreed with you that Malaysia’s Satay is awesome. The peanut sauce is irresistible. With your guide here in this post, me and my wife can try to make the sauce ourselves..really thank you.

  5. Beautiful post. I am just back from travelling Asia for 2 months and I also love Satay. I especially agree that it doesn’t make sense to emphasise all these country battles, we all live in one world…:-)

    • Hi Juan, yes, why fighting over differences when we can agree and make peace on the common ground like this beautiful dish right?

  6. Never heard of Satay before. I eat chicken-on-a-stick at a Chinese restaurant which is probably the same thing. They just don’t call it “Satay”. I don’t eat peanut sauce either because I’m allergic to peanut. Are there other good dipping sauces for the peanut allergenic crowd? What’s in the Nasi Himpit sauce you discuss? I would like to travel to Malasia one day and try this, though.

    • Hi Jason, I would really say that Chinese version of meat-on-a-stick is very different from Satay, mainly because of the ingredients in marinade, for chicken satay that is originated from South East Asia, exotic ingredients like lemongrass, galangal and etc are the main thing while Chinese (east asia) version is more spice/rub based marinade I supposed. I have tried Chinese version of meat-on-a-stick in Beijing, it is really great but, it nowhere near Chicken satay. For dipping sauce, if you really allergic to it, I think you can just skip it, however, in Indonesia, they use sweet=soy-sauce with birds eye chili as the dipping sauce. Hope it helps, thanks

  7. Hi Mus, I love the article, I’m now hungry now just by looking at the photos lol
    I never tasted Satay and I’m sorry to say that but now you have highlighted it. I’m really curious now and I will try it out. I’m going to bookmark this article and try out the ingredients before one of my BBQs. Cheers 🙂

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *