Satay originated in Java, Indonesia and were called Sate. When they arrived in Singapore, they were known as Satays. As satays are best cooked over an open-charcoal fire, the warm, balmy weather in South East Asia offers a perfect setting for this cooking set-up. Wherever we are in the world, half of the world’s countries are entering the Spring/Summer season, so give this amazing BBQ recipe a try. It’s light, fun and best of all, gluten-free!

Growing up in Singapore during the 1960’s and 1970’s, I have a strong “foodie” memory of sitting on plastic stools at open-air make-shift food markets in carparks sampling the best satays you can imagine. This setting may sound strange to those who are more used to fancy malls equipped with air-con, but this was the norm and trendiest in this day, and I dare say, added to the most authentic taste of street food…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 expat who lived here during this time, you may remember the famous carpark in front of the first Cold Storage supermarket along Orchard Road – this was the best night-food market in the 1960’s & 70’s….and by day, the best carpark spot along Orchard Road!

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 have 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
  • 1 kilo chicken thigh fillets, skin removed
  • 100ml coconut milk
  • 1 tablespoon sunflower or peanut oil

For the satay marinade:

  • 15 shallots
  • 3 lemon grass, white part only
  • 2-4 tablespoons sunflower or peanut oil
  • 4 tablespoons peanuts, roasted & salted
  • 4 teaspoons palm, coconut or brown sugar
  • 3 teaspoons coriander powder
  • 2 teaspoons turmeric powder
  • 2 teaspoons cumin powder
  • 1 teaspoon ginger powder
  • 2 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 teaspoon cinnamon powder
  • 1 lemongrass, crushed (used for brushing the BBQ grill with oil) *

Items needed:
35 to 40 bamboo sticks (found at most Asian supermarkets), soaked 30 minutes before cooking on the barbecue/grill.

Suggested equipment:
An outdoor barbecue/grill (although using an indoor grill is fine, it may get smoky!)

Step by Step Instructions

1. Chop the shallots and lemongrass roughly and place in a food processor to grind down to a pulp, adding the oil to help it process well.

2. Add more oil if necessary.

3. Add all the dry spices, sugar and salt.

4. Mix well.

5. Transfer to a glass or ceramic bowl/container.
6. Slice the chicken in 2cm by 1cm strips.
7. Put the chicken in the marinade and refrigerate for at least one hour. Overnight is ideal.

8. As your barbecue/grill is heating up, drain the water from the soaking satay sticks and start skewering the chicken onto the sticks.

9. Add about 4 pieces of chicken per stick and place them in a Pyrex jug upside down with the ends sticking up.

10. 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.

11. Once the coals/BBQ beads are ready (medium-low), lightly grease the BBQ grill with oil.
12. Position the satay sticks around the grill as in the photo below.

13. Throughout cooking, brush the satays with the lemongrass dipped in oil. *
14. Turn over after 5 minutes.
15. Turn over again after 5 minutes.
16. Do the same again for another 3 minutes, until nicely golden and chargrilled.

17. It is important to keep an eye on your satays as they can over-cook easily. Test one after 13 minutes of grilling. It may need less time if your coals/beads are too hot.

18. Remove to a nice platter that has all the following condiments and satay sauce.
Makes 35 to 40 satays

A good chicken alternative is rindless pork belly cut in 2cm by 1cm strips

GLUTEN-FREE SATAY SAUCE (The authentic version)

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 freeze the surplus. It freezes very well!

The culinary term, Rempah means in Indonesian and Malay “spices pounded together”. If you like your satay sauce to be spicier, simply add more dried chillis to the recipe.

GLUTEN-FREE SATAY SAUCE (The authentic version)
  • 6 tablespoons peanuts, pan-roasted
  • 3 tablespoons palm, coconut or brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons coconut oil
  • 3 tablespoons tamarind paste (sold in most Asian stores, already prepared)

For the Rempah paste:

  • 3 lemongrass, white part only, crushed and roughly chopped, leaving one stalk intact
  • 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 the scissors and soaked
  • 1 tablespoon chilli powder
  • 1 ½ tablespoons dried shrimp paste (Belachan)
  • 3-5 tablespoons of water, if using the food processor instead of the mortar & pestle

Step by Step Instructions

1. Pan-roast the peanuts.

2. Process peanuts together until coarsely crushed.

3. Gently fry all the “Rempah” ingredients for 5 minutes in the coconut oil, stirring often.

4. Add the crushed peanuts, sugar and salt.

5. Mix in the tamarind paste. Simmer for 5 minutes.
6. As the sauce simmers, if the sauce appears too thick, add a tablespoon of water to the sauce to loosen it.
7. Turn off the heat and cover the satay sauce until ready to serve.
8. Store in the fridge if making ahead of time and gently re-heat over the stove or in the microwave for 1 minute on high just before serving.

RICE CAKES (Ketupat in Indonesian and Malay)

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 easily.
RICE CAKES (Ketupat in Indonesian and Malay)
  • 180g jasmine rice
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 500ml water
  • 2 tablespoons coconut oil
  • 2 pandan leaf strands (or pandan extract)*
  • If neither is available, use a crushed, fresh lemongrass stalk to add flavour to the rice.

Step by Step Instructions

1. Wash and drain the rice several times.

2. Tie the pandan leaves into a knot and place in the rice.

3. Cook the rice gently over the stove for 10-15 minutes or in a rice cooker.

4. Once cooked, fluff the rice with a spatula.

5. Discard the pandan leaves.
6. Transfer the warm rice to a plastic-wrap lined tray.
7. Press the rice firmly down into the tray using a spatula, pushing the rice towards the corners and sides of the tray.
8. Cover the tray with plastic and using a skewer, make several holes for the steam to escape.
9. Allow to cool in the fridge for at least one hour.
10. Cut into 1 ½ cm squares.

11. Serve with the chicken satays, satay sauce, cubed cucumbers and onions.

1 cucumber, peeled and cubed

2 red onions, peeled and cubed

If you prefer to make an easier satay sauce, here is the link to my Easy peanut satay sauce used in many other dishes like Vegetable Gado Gado or Gluten-Free Vegan Rice Paper Rolls as a dipping sauce.

VEGETABLE GADO GADO with Easy Peanut Satay Sauce