Grilled skewered meat is everywhere in Asia. It’s street food, it’s bar food, it’s a snack, and it can be a main course if served with rice. It’s called sate (sat-e) in Indonesia where it is believed to have originated before it spread to neighboring countries.
(Amusingly, it is pronounced satay by native English speakers but not by Asians except by those who try to mimic American twang. Have you ever heard a Filipino born and raised in the Philippines speak English with a contrived valley girl accent? It makes me cringe.)
But, anyway (there’s no such word as anyways)… back to grilled skewered meat. Except during the worst days of monsoon season, outdoor grilling is really a year-round activity in the tropics. Not possible in regions where winter means snow, right? Well, that’s what a tabletop grill is for.
The photo above, taken in February of 2007, shows the first tabletop grill we ever bought. It’s been out of commission for a while and we have since moved on to cast iron stovetop grills like the one in the photo below.
But does meat acquire a smoky flavor and aroma when grilled indoors? Not very much, I’m afraid. But, marinated correctly and sufficiently, it’s still delicious!
Are these chicken skewers Indonesian, Malaysian, Thai or Vietnamese? All of them, actually, so let’s call it a fusion dish. The inclusion of lemongrass and chili is Thai, kecap manis (sweet soy sauce) is Indonesian, fish sauce and palm sugar are used in all four cuisines.
Just how hot is the chicken after grilling? The heat is mild because I like scraping off and discarding the seeds of the chili.
A final note before the recipe: If you’re wondering if it’s okay to skip marinating and simply baste the chicken with the marinade during grilling, I say don’t. Cooking time is short and the chicken won’t have enough time to soak up the flavors of the seasonings and spices in the marinade.
Asian grilled chicken skewers
- 12 bamboo skewers soaked in water for an hour prior to grilling
- 500 to 600 grams chicken thigh fillets
- 2 stalks lemongrass (light-colored bottom portion only)
- 1 onion peeled and chopped
- 1 finger chili
- 6 cloves garlic crushed and peeled
- 2 tablespoons kecap manis Indonesian sweet soy sauce
- 2 tablespoons oyster sauce
- 2 tablespoons fish sauce
- 1 tablespoon palm sugar
- 2 pinches freshly ground black pepper
- Cut the chicken thighs into 1 ½-inch cubes cubes and place in a bowl.
- Cut off the stem of the chili, slit lengthwise, scrape off the seeds and discard (skip if you want your chicken really hot), then chop.
- Bruise the lemongrass by pounding the stalks a few times with a pestle or the side of a cleaver. Chop.
- Place the chili, garlic, onion, lemongrass and liquid seasonings in a blender and process until pasty. Stir in the black pepper.
- Pour the marinade over the chicken, mix — with your hand preferably — working the marinade into the meat.
- Cover the bowl, place in the fridge and let the chicken marinate for st least four hours.
- Thread four to five pieces of chicken per skewer.
- Grill for about four minutes per side.
- Serve immediately.