Satays are the perfect meal with a handle: spicy, sweet, smoky and easy to make. Most satays are now skewered on the harmless bamboo stick, but the dish may have gotten its start as a quick meal roasted on a traveller’s sword.

While the Arabs were known to eat meat straight from their weapons, Middle Eastern nomads used metal skewers known as kabobs or shawarma to handle their meat. This technique eventually found its way along the spice route to Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore. Thanks to the Turks, shawarma and kabobs are a part of Greek cuisine as well. Some argue that the satay was invented by Chinese immigrants who sold barbecue meat on the street.

Satay means “triple stacked” in the Amoy dialect and satays are often made with three pieces of meat. In Bali, Indonesia, satays continue to be a popular street food. Indeed, the smell and smoke from street vendors beckon tourists all over Southeast Asia. A couple of sticks accompanied with sweet and spicy peanut sauce is considered a perfect snack after a long day at the office or a night on the town. Satay meat is marinated in a sauce that contains turmeric, which imparts a distinctive yellowy-orange colour to the meat (and everything else it comes into contact with). Besides its earthy taste, the spice is also thought to be a powerful antiseptic and antibacterial agent.

Cutting the meat and skewering it does more than just provide an easy way to grill the protein; marinating and skewering meat provides a lot of surface for the marinade to penetrate, as well as leaving lots of edges to caramelize. Serve with dipping sauce as an appetizer or prepare a few different kinds of meat for a meal.

Chicken Satays

Satays are so simple and delicious you may wonder why you haven’t added them to your repertoire before. Chicken is traditionally the meat of choice, but pork and even a good grilling cut of beef are popular as well.

Ingredients (Serves 2 as a main course, 4 as part of a larger meal)

  • 1 lb boneless, skinless chicken thighs
  • 2 tbsp soy sauce
  • 1 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 1 tbsp lemon juice
  • 1 tbsp light brown sugar
  • 2 tsp chopped garlic
  • 2 tsp ground cumin
  • 2 tsp ground coriander seed
  • 1 tsp turmeric


  1. Cut chicken thighs into 3 or 4 1-inch wide pieces.
  2. Combine soy sauce, oil, lemon juice, brown sugar, garlic, cumin, coriander seed and turmeric in a medium bowl. Add chicken and toss to coat. Cover and marinate for 1 hour at room temperature or in the refrigerator overnight.
  3. Thread chicken onto 4 metal skewers or soaked bamboo sticks. Heat barbecue on high heat. Grill chicken for 2 minutes on each side, turning as needed, or until chicken is slightly caramelized on the outside and cooked through. Serve with peanut sauce (recipe follows).

Peanut Sauce

Make sure you use a natural peanut butter without any added sweetening. Any leftover peanut sauce is great tossed with noodles and vegetables or even as a base for chicken salad with plain cooked or grilled chicken.


  • 1 tbsp vegetable oil
  • ½ cup chopped onion
  • 2 tsp chopped garlic
  • ½ tsp turmeric
  • ½ cup coconut milk
  • ½ cup water
  • ½ tsp Asian chili sauce
  • ½ cup smooth natural peanut butter
  • 2 tbsp lime juice
  • 1 tsp brown sugar


  1. Heat oil in a small pot over medium heat. Add onions; sauté for 2 minutes or until softened. Add garlic and turmeric and sauté for 1 minute or until fragrant. Add coconut milk, water and chili sauce and bring to a boil. Boil for 2 minutes or until slightly thickened.
  2. Turn heat to low. Add peanut butter, lime juice and brown sugar and whisk until sauce has come together. If sauce begins to separate or look curdled, or if it seems too thick, whisk in a little water. Season with salt to taste. Serve with satays.

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