Going beyond Chinese
When one thinks of “food” and “Asia”, the instant responses would be “Chinese”, or perhaps “sushi” or even “Thai”. Granted they are the most known Asian cuisines in the US (despite how much of it now is more Americanized than traditional), but explorers who choose to venture beyond the familiar will find a wondrous bounty of Asian culture and cuisine inspired by many flavors beyond those of the Orient.
A good example of this bounty can be found in the vast group of islands known as Indonesia. Roughly 6000 populated islands comprise this sovereign state, with more than 300 ethnic groups spread and intermixed all over. Now think about this diversity, and how it will shape the food.
If you choose to explore Indonesian cuisine, you'll find they have the familiar Asian staples of fried rice, stir-frys, and some noodles. However, due to influences of the Middle East and Spain, the flavors are bolder, the dishes more colorful, and the diversity of ingredients definitely separates Indonesia from the more familiar Chinese.
Today I want to start this exploration with a street food popular with much of the Southeastern Asian region and the Philippine Islands. In fact, my introduction to chicken satay came from Filipino friends here in the US, as they would make these delectable skewers whenever there was a barbecue.
The secret of a good satay (“sah-tae”) is mainly in the marinade, and to have a good peanut sauce either brushed on the skewers or on the side for dipping. Try making it yourself and I’ll bet you’ll pull this recipe out next time you fire up the grill.
- Peel of one lemon, kept in slices
- 1 cup of brown sugar
- 2 tbsp of ginger
- 6 cloves of garlic, crushed
- 1 tbsp of turmeric powder
- 1/4 cup of fresh lime juice
- 1/4 cup of cup dark rum
- 2 tbsp of tequila
- 2 tbsp of fish sauce
- 1/2 cup of coconut milk
- 1 tsp of crushed red pepper, optional
- 4-6 boneless skinless chicken breasts
- Canola oil, for grilling or broiling
- Place the lemon peel, brown sugar, ginger, garlic, turmeric, lime juice, rum, tequila, and fish sauce into a food processor or blender.
- Blend the ingredients into a solid purée.
- Pour the purée into a sealable container and whisk in the coconut milk.
- Place your chicken into the finished marinade and seal the container.
- Refrigerate the chicken and marinade for at least four hours. Overnight is better.
- Grill or broil the chicken as you desire.
It’s highly suggested you either grill or broil the chicken. You want that nice charring, as it will enhance the flavor. Baking it will not give you the best results. You could try sauteing if you wish.
If you do not have rum, then try 8 tbsp of rum extract, or take 2 tbsp of molasses and combine it with 1/8 cup of pineapple juice and 1 tsp of almond extract. I’d more suggest keeping a bottle of Meyer’s Rum in your arsenal as it can be used in many dishes.
When I made this, I actually did not have any tequila on hand, so I used 2 tbsp of agave nectar. Worked beautifully.
When it comes to the chicken, skewers are the popular form, but you can do them as whole breasts if you choose. Just make sure to cut them up before marinating if you want skewers.
Best way to serve chicken satay is with a peanut sauce. Either buy a bottle, or try making the one I made with a tofu stir-fry. Red onion slices and pickles are also great garnishes. If you want to make a full meal out of it, then try serving it with basmati rice and cucumber slices.