SATAY is by far, Singapore’s most favourite BBQ skewer!
Gluten-free chicken satays are tender, aromatic, lightly sweet and spicy marinated skewers barbecued gently over hot coals and served with a rich spiced peanut sauce. This is one of South East Asia favourite “hawker food” or outdoor market dishes to enjoy, especially in Singapore. If you ever visit Singapore, head to the best satay stand at Lau-Pa-Sat Market in the Singapore CBD, near the Fullerton Hotel.
Typically, satay is served with rice cakes (recipe below), aka Ketupat, and chunky wedges of fresh cucumber and red onions. These are dunked into the rich spiced satay peanut sauce, which I have also included in the recipe to make this easy and infamous dipping sauce.
Where did Satay originate from?
Satay originated in Java, Indonesia and was called Sate. When they arrived in Singapore, they were known as Satays, notoriously cooked over an open charcoal fire. With the often warm, balmy weather, this perfect setting to enjoy satays was attractive.
Growing up in Singapore during the ’70s, I have a strong “foodie” memory of sitting on plastic stools at open-air make-shift food markets in outdoor car parks sampling the best satays you could imagine. This setting may sound strange to those who are more used to fancy malls equipped with air-con and better furnishings, but this was the “norm” back then, and I would say the most authentic taste of “street food”…as it was literally…off the street!
Some of my friends, who I am still in contact with to this day, can recall the friendly competition amongst us, counting the highest number of satay sticks consumed on their plate. It was an excellent game for increasing our appetite and an appealing appreciation to the satay vendors who were humbled by the high stacks of sticks on each plate. For those who are Singaporean or a past-present ex-pat who lived there during this time, you may remember the famous car park in front of the first Cold Storage supermarket along Orchard Road – this was the best night-food market in the ’60s & ’70s….and by day, the best car park spot along Orchard Road!
What do you serve with satays?
I know there are a ton of already-made satay sauces sold in jars at the supermarket (many of which contain gluten ingredients), but there is no replacement for this recipe. It really is the real thing that you get in Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore at the food stall markets. A bit labour intensive, but it’s worth it in the end. The plus side is that you can double the recipe and successfully freeze the surplus.
To make an authentic satay sauce, you need to make a Rempah paste. The culinary term, Rempah means in Indonesian and Malay “spices pounded together”. I have included this paste in the recipe. Incidentally, if you like your satay sauce to be spicier, simply add more dried chillis to the recipe.
“KETUPAT” Rice Cakes
Ketupat is known as condensed rice cake cubes packed into a woven palm leaf pouch which originated in Indonesia. Infused in fresh pandan leaves, these rice cakes are a perfect accompaniment to satays and satay sauce. As much as I would love to serve these in woven palm leaf pouches, my weaving skills are lacking, plus Europe has no demand for palm leaves! The following recipe is doable as a substitute. They taste amazing and absorb the satay sauce perfectly.
Cucumber & Red Onions
Cubed cucumber and red onion wedges are typically served with satays. The cucumber cools down the spiciness and the red onions elevate the spiciness! They are also dipped in the satay sauce using the spare chicken satay sticks.
Throw in some additional vegetables like raw carrots or cooked potato pieces to soak up the satay sauce.
How complex is it to make satays?
By following this very authentic recipe for the marinade & sauce, preparing a good fire on the BBQ and having plenty of helping hands to skewer countless satay sticks with marinated, aromatic meat…easy!
So much can be made in advance, including the accompanying red onions, cucumbers and rice cakes. Just follow the recipe below for a very authentic satay sitting. If you are lucky with warm weather, enjoy preparing and eating them outdoors…and don’t forget to count your tally of satay sticks!
Gluten-Free Chicken Satays
- 35-40 bamboo sticks, soaked for 30 minutes before cooking on the barbecue Found at most Asian supermarkets
- An outdoor barbecue (eg: Weber) or an indoor griddle pan
- 1 kilo chicken thigh fillets, skin removed
- 100 ml coconut milk, tinned
- 1 tbsp sunflower or peanut oil
- 1 stalk lemongrass, crushed (used for brushing the BBQ grill with oil)
- 15 shallots
- 2 stalks lemon grass, white part only
- 3-4 tbsp sunflower or peanut oil
- 4 tbsp peanuts, roasted & salted
- 4 tsp palm, coconut or brown sugar
- 3 tsp coriander powder
- 2 tsp turmeric powder
- 2 tsp cumin powder
- 1 tsp ginger powder
- 2 tsp salt
- ¾ tsp cinnamon powder
Authentic Gluten-Free Satay Sauce
- 6 tbsp peanuts, pan-roasted
- 3 tbsp palm, coconut or brown sugar
- 1 tsp salt
- 2 tbsp coconut oil
- 3 tbsp tamarind paste mixed with some water Tamarind paste is sold at most Asian stores
- 100 ml water or coconut milk
- 2 stalks lemongrass, white part only, crushed and roughly chopped
- 8 shallots, roughly chopped
- 4 garlic cloves, roughly chopped
- 2 cm galangal piece, peeled and roughly chopped
- 8 dried chillis snipped into small pieces with scissors
- 1 tbsp chilli powder
- 1 ½ tbsp dried shrimp paste (Belachan) Sold at most Asian stores
- 4-5 tbsp water
Gluten-Free Rice Cakes (Ketupat in Indonesian and Malay)
- 180 g jasmine rice
- ¼ tsp salt
- 500 ml water
- 2 tbsp coconut oil
- 2 strands fresh pandan leaves, or
- 1 tsp pandan extract
To serve with the satays
- 1 cucumber, cubed roughly
- 2 red onions, peeled and cut in rough wedges
Chicken satay marinade
- Chop the shallots and lemongrass roughly and place in a food processor to grind down to a pulp, adding the oil to loosen it. Add more oil if needed.
- Add the peanuts, spices, sugar and salt. Blend well.
- Slice the chicken into 2 cm by 1 cm strips.
- Transfer the satay marinade to a medium glass bowl and combine it with the coconut milk, then add the chicken pieces.
- Chill the chicken for at least one hour. Overnight is ideal.
- Wash and drain the rice several times.
- Add the rice, salt, coconut oil and water to the rice cooker or stove pot.
- Tie the pandan leaves into a knot and place them in the rice or mix the pandan essence in the rice water.
- Cook the rice in the rice cooker or bring the water to a boil and simmer gently in the stove pot for 15 minutes, or until all the water has evaporated.
- Once cooked, fluff the rice with a spatula.
- Discard the pandan leaves.
- Transfer the warm rice to a plastic-lined square 23cm tray.
- Press the rice firmly down into the tray using a spatula, pushing the rice towards the corners and sides of the tray.
- Cover the rice-filled tray with plastic and using a skewer or satay stick, make several holes for the steam to escape.
- Allow to cool in the fridge for at least one hour before cutting the rice cakes into 1 ½ cm squares using a warm knife.
- NOTE: If you would like more "compact" rice cakes, place several milk cartons or tins on their sides on top of the plastic-covered rice cake tray for an extra hour.
Authentic Satay Sauce
- Dry-roast the peanuts until they release their aroma and appear golden. Stir often as they easily catch and burn if left unattended.
- Allow to cool down slightly before blending the peanuts coarsely. Remove and set aside. Don't over-blend them or you will end up with peanut butter.
- Add all the Rempah paste ingredients (except the water) to the blender. Blend until semi-smooth, adding the water if it needs to be loosen up.
- Gently fry all the “Rempah” paste ingredients for 5 minutes in the coconut oil, stirring often. Add more water one tablespoon at a time if it appears too dry.
- Add the crushed peanuts, sugar and salt.
- Mix in the tamarind paste mixture. Simmer for 10 to 15 minutes.
- Add the extra water or coconut milk to create a dipping-consistency sauce and simmer for 5 to 8 mins. The satay sauce is ready when the oil starts to rise to the top and separate slightly from the sauce.
- Turn off the heat. Leave the sauce in the pan if serving satays soon, otherwise chill in a bowl for serving later.
- Gently reheat over the stove or in the microwave for 1 minute on high just before serving.
Assembling the chicken satays
- Soak 40 bamboo satay sticks in water 30 minutes before assembling.
- Add 3 to 4 pieces of chicken per stick and place them in a tall jug or container upside down with the ends sticking up.
- When the final stick has been assembled, add the coconut milk to the remaining marinade, mix and pour this into the jug. This will give the satays one final marinade while the barbecue/grill is heating up or alternatively, you can place them back in the fridge for later on. This is a great tip if you are entertaining and want to get as much done as possible beforehand.
Barbecuing the chicken satays
- Once the coals/beads are ready (medium-low), lightly grease the BBQ grill with oil.
- Position the satay sticks around the grill with the sticks sticking out of the BBQ grill as shown in the photo.
- Throughout cooking, brush the satays with the spare lemongrass stalk dipping it often in oil.
- Turn over after 5 minutes, then again for another 5 minutes.
- Repeat the same step for 1½ minutes on each side, brushing the satays often with the lemongrass stalk.
- Chicken satays keep for 2 days
- Peanut sauce keeps for 4 days (suitable to freeze)
- Rice cakes keep for 4 days (unsuitable to freeze)