Chicken Satay & Peanut Sauce

Sunday, 20 March 2011

Do you know how satay sauce gets its tinge of yellow? Turmeric? Wrong! The golden hue comes from roasted peanuts, which have to be finely ground and boiled to release their colour.

The first round of satay sauce I made was too chunky because the peanuts were all roughly chopped as per the recipe. So for the second round, I pulverized half of the peanuts for a smoother and thicker consistency. Surprisingly, that also gave me the right shade of colour for the sauce.

Aaah, so that's how, and why!

I was following the satay sauce recipe in The Best of Singapore Cooking, and wondering why the roasted peanuts had to be boiled. Now I know! I thought I had to add a pinch of turmeric to make the sauce yellowish but that was unnecessary and, I'm sure, totally wrong.

Besides changing the colour of the sauce, the finely ground peanuts also enhanced the . . . 'satay flavour'. You know what I mean, that special flavour and fragrance unique to satay, that makes satay taste like satay?

For the chicken, I used the oven's grill function. What, no charcoal?! Ok, before the satay police arrests me for committing a crime against satay, let me say that the chicken was really succulent even without basting. A charcoal fire imparts a wonderful smoky fragrance but, in the wrong hands, it may dry out the meat, especially when basting oil keeps dripping on the charcoal. If there's a miserly amount of meat on the stick, the heat from naked flames would be too intense.

Compared to some satay that looks two-dimensional because the meat is so thinly sliced, my version was of generous proportions – definitely plus size! There wasn't any drama from leaping flames, dancing sparks or furious fanning, but there was plenty of juicy, succulent meat.

How good were the satay and satay sauce? Well, these were some of the comments I got: 'Where's the ketuput?' 'No ketuput ah?' 'Someone ate all the ketuput?'

Aaaa . . . argh! There's no ketuput. I don't know how to make ketuput. NO KETUPUT, OK? NO KE . . . TU . . . PUT! Om, om . . . OMOMOMOMOM!

Just kidding, folks. No one said anything about ketuput, but I did think the satay was missing something because there wasn't any rice cake cooked in coconut leaves. So I did a search, and found this:

Hmm, the weaving looks doable. Once I know how to do that, with coconut leaves instead of ribbons, the rest is a doddle. Fill the ketuput with rice and boil it – for five hours! And there's a coconut tree at St Pat's, just by Marine Parade Road, that can be quite handy. It's a funny looking tree because all you see is a circle of coconut leaves hovering just above the ground, instead of way up there, and the trunk is completely hidden by the leaves. I think it probably holds the Guinness record for the shortest coconut tree ever. I could just reach out and pluck some leaves for ketuput! Whilst I'm at it, I might as well get a few more for otak-otak, and there're several mangosteen trees not too far from St Pat's . . . .

Source: Adapted from The Best of Singapore Cooking, by Mrs Leong Yee Soo
(Recipe for 40 sticks and 2 cups of sauce)
Chicken marinade
4 tbsp coriander seeds
4 tsp cumin seeds
20 shallots (120 g)
4 cloves garlic (25 g)
8 stalks lemon grass, tender part only, washed, and roughly chopped
4 slices galangal, washed, and roughly chopped
1 tsp turmeric powder, or ¼ thumb size piece turmeric
2 tsp salt
¾ cup sugar
2 tsp dark soya sauce

1 kg boneless and skinless chicken thighs, washed, dried, and cut small, bite size
8 tbsp oil
40 skewers, soaked in water overnight
Satay peanut sauce
60 g assam (tamarind), mashed with ½ cup warm water and drained; seeds discarded
250 g toasted peanuts, skinless, and roughly chopped
250 g toasted peanuts, skinless, and finely ground
50 g shallots (8 pieces), roughly chopped
25 g garlic (4 cloves), roughly chopped
2 stalks lemongrass, tender part only, roughly chopped
4 thin slices galangal, roughly chopped
2 tbsp chilli powder, or to taste, mixed with an equal amount of water
6 tbsp vegetable oil
60 g palm sugar, roughly chopped
60 g sugar (4 tbsp)
½ tbsp salt
Garnish – all in thin, bite size wedges
¼ cup red onion, layers separated
½ cup pineapple
½ cup cucumber

To marinate chicken, toast coriander and cumin seeds over medium/low heat till toasty. Whilst still hot, pound or blend with shallots, garlic, lemon grass, galangal and fresh turmeric (if using) to a smooth paste. Mix with remaining ingredients for marinade. Refrigerate for 10-24 hours, covered.

To grill chicken (after making peanut sauce – see below), thoroughly mix chicken and marinade with oil. Thread chicken on skewers, snugly. Spread marinade on the meat.

If you want jumbo size satay, make 30 skewers instead of 40. I prefer the bigger ones for their succulence, and the size makes everyone go 'Wow!'

Grill chicken till slightly charred and just cooked, about 5 minutes each side. Garnish with pineapple, cucumber and onion. Serve immediately with sauce on the side.

To make satay sauce, place peanuts and assam water in a pot. Top up with water to cover peanuts by 3 cm (1 inch or so). Bring to a boil. Simmer gently for about 20 minutes, covered.

Whilst peanuts are simmering, pound or blend shallots, garlic, lemongrass and galangal to a smooth paste. Fry paste with chilli powder in hot oil over medium heat till fragrant and colour darkens.

Add to peanut mixture together with palm sugar, sugar and salt. Stir to mix thoroughly. Bring back to a boil, and simmer gently for 10 minutes. Reduce sauce or add more water as necessary to get a thick consistency. Taste and adjust seasoning if necessary. Turn off heat. The sauce continues to thicken as it cools down. If necessary, add a wee bit of water and stir through. The sauce is typically served at room temperature or slightly warm, but I think it's ok too piping hot or chilled.

The recipe makes 2 cups or about 2 tsp per skewer. You'd have to make more if, like me, you like to drown your satay in peanut sauce.


Shu Han said...

hey i used your tips to get that beautiful satay peanut sauce! posted about it a while ago but forgot to let you know (: thanks so much! it was great!

KT said...

Young Lady

I don't know how you do it, cooking so many elaborate dishes whilst you're a student. You're amazing! When I was in the U, I cooked mostly instant noodles, fried rice, and throw-something-in-the-pot-and-boil. Stir-fried veg was considered elaborate, though I did make laksa and black forest gateau once, or maybe it was twice.

Shu Han said...

wow laksa and black forest...I know, I waste too much time in the kitchen ><
I do a lot of throw something in the pot and boil actually, esp when assignments are due.

Jess Hoh said...

I really like your blog. I tried the satay and peanut sauce recipe. Being first time cooking this, fairly good except my peanut sauce is very pale looking and the chunky nuts kind of dissolved. could u tell me what could I have done wrong?

KT said...

The peanuts must be golden brown, and some of the nuts must be finely ground and simmered to give the sauce its golden yellow colour. Did you use the full amount of chilli powder specified in the recipe? That should add a touch of red. Did you use the full amount of oil? The colours wouldn't be prominent if there's not enough oil.

Not sure about the peanuts dissolving. Maybe you bought made-in-China fake peanuts?

Isabella said...

Hi, KT

I tried your Chicken Satay & Peanut sauce receipe.... Oh My God... within 30 second is all gone. I made 200 stick... No only Singaporean like it... even Aussie like it too. They prefer satay then kebab. Let's have 3 cheer.... ya.... Did your hear that... Merry Christmas...

KT said...

Hi Isabella, merry Christmas to you too and happy 2013.

christine said...

Hi! can i grill the chicken using oven?

Lau Pa Sat Fanatic said...

Hi KT, I'm a frequent traveller to Sg and usually eat a few hundred sticks each visit. I'm finally trying to make this authentic dish that I've raved about to all my American friends. They've mostly had only the Thai satay with peanut butter, so they don't understand what all the excitement's about. I have all of the ingredients, the only thing I'm curious about is the American equivalent for the chili powder in your recipe. American chili powders typically have salt, garlic, and various other spices, so I don't want to accidentally ruin the mix. Would something like sambal or sriracha be an acceptable substitute?

Thanks for this wonderful, easy to follow blog. You have vastly improved my Asian cooking skills.

KT said...

Hi Lau Pa Sat Fanatic, your logic makes no sense. Don't sambal and sriracha have salt, garlic and various other spices?

You can easily buy finely ground pure chilli powder in the US. Let me know if you want to know where.

kmcoolpix1305 said...

Hi KT,

Would you recommend the same marinade for beef?


ymase said...

FYI - it's ketupat definitely not ketuput .

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