Sunday, 3 July 2011

"Tut-tut-Satay!" Singapore Chicken Satay with Peanut Sauce

The past few days in Singapore, I've been bombarded by Chinese soups (lovingly slow-cooked by mummy dearest over a charcoal stove), Malay spices and stews, Indian curries. And I just couldn't decide what to share first. And then today, I heard the familiar "Tut-tut-Satay!" The Satay Man!

Satay, delicious skewers of spice-marinated meat, are really popular in Singapore, found in hawker centres, in pasar malams (night markets), and for some fortunate neighbourhoods like mine, on "mobile" barbecue grills. These two Malay uncles have been touting their wares on a motorbike attached to their mini mobile kitchens, along the street where I stay, every Sundayever since I was ten. My sisters and I would excitedly run out to get twenty to thirty sticks, which comes with a generous bowl of peanut sauce, pressed rice cakes, cucumber and onions.

Actually, I'm sure most people know what satay is. Satay must be the first thing that comes to the minds of non-locals when you mention Southeast Asian cuisine. There are many countries with their own version of satay, but the Singapore satay that I grew up with trumps all the Thai, Filipino or Indonesian versions. It's also one of the many things I miss when I'm in London. So I decided to treat myself one day to satay, using my oven grill function which, to be honest, cannot properly replace the smoky charcoal aroma and beautiful char that the direct charcoal flames give. But, well, I was desperate, and really, it turned out (not perfect I know, but) delicious! I didn't want to post it until I got a photo of satay done right, and now I do.

Singapore Chicken Satay
makes 20 normal skewers or 15 jumbo ones
500g chicken, boneless and skinless, chopped into bite-sized pieces
10 shallots
2 cloves garlic
4 stalks lemongrass, white part only, bruised
2 slices galangal (you can kind of substitute with ginger, but it's quite a different flavour. It's becoming quite easy to find in big supermarkets now, or you can check Asian stores)
2 tbsp ground coriander
2 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp turmeric
1 tsp sea salt
8 tbsp unrefined cane sugar
1 tbsp kecap manis, a thick dark soy sauce (I use 1 tsp traditionally brewed soy sauce+ 1 tsp molasses)
3-4 tbsp groundnut oil

1. Pound (at home, my mum still dutifully pounds spices and onions in a mortar and pestle to make curry paste) or blend the shallots, garlic, lemongrass and galangal, before mixing in the rest of the ingredients, adding quite a bit of oil to get a paste.

2. Marinate the chicken in the paste overnight, or even for 24 h.

3. Thread the chicken pieces on wooden skewers. Mine was abnormally generous thick cubes of chicken, it's usually skinnier. (Tip: soak the skewers for a few hours beforehand to prevent them burning later).

4. Turn the oven grill setting on high. Grill for about 5 minutes per side, till cooked and slightly charred, generously basting with some oil as and when.

Just as important, if not more important than the satay itself, is the peanut sauce. The perfect peanut sauce is thick and aromatic with freshly roasted peanuts and is a perfect balance of spices and sweet-saltiness. Unlike Thai peanut satay sauce, which uses coconut milk, this peanut sauce has a slightly different taste profile because of the use of the tart-sweet tamarind juice.

Singapore Satay Peanut Sauce
(credits to kitchen tigress for her brilliant research into getting that perfect consistency and golden hue in the peanut sauce)
makes 1 cup
250g toasted peanuts, skinless
1 tbsp tamarind (assam) pulp, mashed with 1/2 cup of warm water
4 shallots
2 cloves garlic
1 stalk lemongrass, white part only
2 slices galangal
3-4 dried red chillies
3 tbsp groundnut oil 
4 tbsp unrefined sugar (palm sugar aka gula melaka is great. Its unique sweet taste is popular in Singaporean cooking. It will give a much darker sauce though.)
1 tsp naturally brewed soy sauce

plus the leftover marinade from the chicken

1. Roughly chop half the peanuts, and finely grind the other half (this helps to thicken the sauce). Boil them in the assam water, simmering for about 20 minutes.

2. Meanwhile, blend the shallots, garlic, lemongrass, galangal and chilli. Fry with the leftover satay marinade in the oil till fragrant.
3. Add the fried spice paste to the peanuts to simmer for another 15 min.

4. Add the seasonings, and reduce by boiling/ add water as needed.

Please make extra sauce! It's so delicious and you can use it for dips, dressings, sauce, with vegetables, with meat, with noodles, for stir-fries etc. (e.g. Seafood satay beehoon, another Singapore hawker favourite)

The chicken satay, after being marinated for so long in that wonderful mixture of spices and seasoning, is fragrant, juicy and succulent. The satay peanut sauce satisfies my senses on all levels-- smell-wise, aromatic with freshly-roasted peanuts; taste-wise, it's sweet, spice-y, and just a very little bit sour and salty at the same time; and texture-wise, it's thick and creamy yet chunky. You need the fresh cucumber and diced red onions (and if I had my way, rice cakes called ketupat) to cut through all that richness, and of course to dip in excess peanut sauce. I know it's not there yet, but I was really pleased with myself then. Now, though, after seeing the Malay satay uncles doing their thing, I'm just embarassed..


  1. I haven't had satay for a while...These look so so good, I am drooling!

  2. Yummy yummy. That looks very good! It would be nice if you join us on Tuesday for *PicStory* this week: DIY - all self-made! So if you like... you are warmly welcome!
    LG Tina

  3. It is really fun for me to have you share your eastern point of view on foods. Thank you.

  4. How fantastic to get an authentic satay and peanut sauce recipe!! Thank you so much. The pictures look divine x

  5. Thank for sharing this! I'm inspired to make my own satay sauce now :D

  6. What a good and yummy looking satay! Your peanut sauce sounds very delicious too. It's so hard to get the right peanut sauce and yours seems like very authentic. I'm going to bookmark this and hope to try it soon. Thanks for sharing this recipe!

  7. Great looking satay. Thanks for recipe of the sauce. Looks good even if it's a short-cut!

  8. I love the peanut sauce. I even use it to dress my blanched veggies.

  9. HiShu Han,

    I just found your site from the Kale Chips recipe you shared on Bodyrock (I'm trying them today!) and just had to leave a comment to tell you how impressed I am with it - and you! You're so young and yet so thorough, articulate and passionate about real food. I love it! It's a passion I share. I've actually just started muy own little blog about eating and exercising as a form of self love and care. It's (it's brand new, only a handful of posts so far)

    You say you spend too much time in the kitchen to be productive - but this IS productive my friend. I don't know what it is you do for a living or are studying, but it seems to me that this is a natural calling for you. I can see you the author of some great cookbooks, or the host of some travel/cooking show.

    I am booking-marking this site and definitely coming back to it. Have you thought about getting a Twitter account so you can let your viewers know when a new post is up? Just a thought.

    Thanks for the great ideas and for sharing your passion for real food.



  10. I LOVE chicken satay... this sounds so delicious!

  11. I know this is about one week late for most of the comments, but thank you all! (: This is good satay peanut sauce even if the satay chicken skewers themselves weren't as impressive as they should be.. I hope you all give it a try on your outdoor grills or barbeques!

    Tina, I'm sorry I missed the event. I was so caught up with this that and packing for my trip ><

    Hehe wendyy, read my latest post. That's exactly what I did, dipping my veggies in the peanut sauce until I had hardly any left ):

  12. Thank you so much for your comment dheana. I study graphic design, I like what I study but I really really love cooking. I am flattered and really happy that you think I'd be great as an author of cookbooks or a cooking/travel host, you have no idea how encouraging that is to me (:

    I'm just not very media savvy I guess haha I don't even have a twitter account myself. I may start a fb one soon though! thanks for the tip! (:

  13. Shu Han, I finally made your chicken satay plus the sauce (modified mine to be no peanuts) and turned out GREAT! Thank you for inspiring me! :D
    Southeast Asian cuisines are definitely my favorite and I really need to explore them more.

  14. Oh i'm so glad you tried and liked it! Satay peanut sauce without peanuts?? that's intriguing. going to check your post out.

  15. I have to salute you. Erh,...lot's of work you put in there...

  16. Great photos of the satay man! How I miss satay. But I don't think I ever had home delivered satay before. Great job on your home-made satay, looks fab!

  17. i know, i spend too much time in the kitchen ><

    shaz, i guess i'm lucky then ahaha. we get an ice cream man sometimes too.

  18. I just happen to have all these ingredients on hand, so will be trying out your delicious recipe soon. Can hardly wait!

  19. Hello! I tried the recipe. Chicken stay turned out great except that my paste was light yellowish compared to yours, brown. Do you know why it was so? I was nevertheless happy the taste was great!

    Peanut sauce - I added more water on top of the Assam juice together with grounded peanuts. No matter how much water I added, the mixture was dry. Taste was good though but no sauce. Can you advise?

    1. Hi Shermaine! yay, I'm always really happy to hear form pple who have tried my recipes!

      I think the brown was because of the blackstrap molasses which I used, which was really really black. I used that, along with soy sauce, to sub for the regular thick dark soy sauce which we get in Singapore, which is difficult to find here, esp a version without unwanted additives!

      about peanut sauce, I really have no idea why the mixture was dry, esp since you added extrawater to the mix. did you boil on very high heat? Mine was on a gentle but steady simmer. Also, it might help if you use a smaller saucepan just so the liquid doesn't boil dry as quickly. I really hope this helps!!

    2. Hi I just tried making your sauce and it's pretty darn good for home-made!! Thanks so much! But I had the same problem too, I had to add a lot of water. Is there a typo for your quantity of assam water? It just doesnt seem possible to be able to boil that many peanuts in only 1/4 cup of water

    3. argh 1/2 cup doh! SORRY. I'm going to edit the post now. Sorry both of you.

  20. Hi Shu Han, i added more water to a smaller portion of the satay sauce mixture in small bowl to heat up in microwave & yes i got a sauce :) v happy! Thanks again!!

  21. We lived in Singapore last year and I've been looking for a recipe to try to make the Satay that we ate so often over there. I'm excited to have found this! Thank you! Looking forward to trying this!

  22. Mmmmmmmmmmmm I love satay, as in proper satay, and I can't wait to make this next time I have a bbq, thanks! x

  23. Will be in SG end of this year..any suggestions where to have good Satay. Which neighbourhood are you in . Would like to try the Satay in the photograph...just like the good ol' days when the satay man would come on bicyles in my neighbourhood.

    1. Definitely head to lau pa sat hawker centre after around 7pm. The street next to the hawker centre is closed off, and the whole area becomes "satay street", with many satay stalls, and hundreds of people having satay and a beer in the open air. It's a very nice atmosphere, and a must see in Singapore.

  24. I miss Singapore now! This was always my favourite dish at the restaurant opposite Chinatown's Heritage Museum, the one with the yellow tables.

  25. That was highly entertaining! Your story, not masterchef. I’ve given up on it this year and didn’t bother watching the finale… but those satays look beautiful! Damn.. I guess, to get the best satays, one has to cook them oneself.. bah

  26. I do think your darkie ended up being as a result of black strap molasses i applied, which has been genuinely genuinely dark-colored. My spouse and i applied that will, as well as soy spices, for you to subscription to the standard solid darker soy spices which in turn many of us get involved Singapore, and that is nearly impossible to find below, esp a new variation with no unwelcome ingredients!

    1. Good observation, it's definitely the case. Taste wise is just as delicious though and much healthier :)

  27. when do you add the sugar for the peanut sauce ??