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I’m not much of an ‘Aussie Barbie’ (Barbecue that is!) fan. While my neighbours over the backyard are sizzling their smoky sausages and steaks, I make them wonder about the piquant spicy aromas of Asia wafting over the fences. Their view may be obstructed but their sense of smell isn’t and it drives them crazy. “The Chinese restaurant is open again!” (guffaws of laughter) Their jokes mask their temptation to climb over so they could see and perhaps have a little sample of my skewered chunks of well-seasoned chicken satay, grilling away and giving their angus fillets and sausages a run for its money.
In Asia, ‘satay’ is bamboo-grilled kebabs featuring any kind of meats:chicken, beef, pork, mutton, goat, even fish. In Singapore, chicken or beef are the most popularly found. Grilled or barbecued over a smoky charcoal fire or wood, the meat is usually bathed in a flavourful marinade of various spices and served with a flavourful spicy peanut dipping sauce made with spices like turmeric, lemongrass, shrimp paste and chillies.
I especially have fond memories of Satay Club—a gathering of satay hawkers at the Esplanade area from 1970-1995 before it moved to Clarke Quay and kind of lost its magic for me. The new spot just isn’t the same. I had no warm and fuzzy feelings for it and rightly so when it was a lifetime ago that I was a small child and now only have those sweet lingering memories of my late dad taking my brother and me there for late night satay suppers, perhaps some of my happiest and most enamoured childhood times. For me, the new Satay Club brought reminiscence at best but in my heart was unable to weave back that magic, nostalgia and the romantic ambience of the Esplanade Satay Club. It was ‘waterfront satay dining’ at its best, serving the best satay in the region in that bygone era.
Grilled Chicken Satay Singapore Style
1 kg chicken thighs (preferred to chicken breast)
Spice Marinade Paste:
1 TB ground coriander
1 TB ground cumin
1 TB ground turmeric
1 TB galangal powder
1 TB curry powder
1 teaspoon chili powder
1 tsp salt 2 TB cooking oil 1 TB kecap manis (Indonesian sweet soy sauce) 2 TB oyster sauce
125g or (1/2 C) coconut milk
3 shallots, peeled and diced 2 cloves garlic, peeled and diced
Others: (To Serve)
Bamboo skewers, (soaked in water for 1-2 hours to avoid burning)
cucumber, cut into smaller pieces
1 small onion, quartered
Cut the chicken thighs into smaller cubes then transfer these into a huge bowl. Mix all ingredients for the spice marinade paste well in a separate bowl. Pour over and marinate the chicken pieces with the spice paste overnight or over 10 hours. Skewer the meat though the bamboo skewers and grill for 2-3 minutes on each side on a hot griddle or in grill in a home oven (after brushing with a bit of oil) with aluminium foil over the sticks to prevent the sticks burning. Serve hot with the satay sauce dip and fresh cucumber pieces with onions and one of my special touches is to include pineapple cubes for a tangy sweet zing.
Peanut oil for frying
5 cloves garlic, peeled and pounded
3 shallots, peeled and pounded
2 stalks lemongrass (white part only; discard green stem), pounded
500g crunchy peanut butter
1 cm of cubed belachan (shrimp paste)
1/4 C tamarind juice (strained from a cube of fresh tamarind)
1/2 C castor sugar (or to taste)
1 teaspoons salt (or to taste)
1 C water
2 C coconut milk
3 T curry powder
Add some peanut oil into a wok. Fry the cube of belachan till fragrant, mincing it with your spatula then add the pounded garlic, shallots and lemon grass and fry the spices on low heat till they become aromatic. Add the curry powder, stir a little, then add the peanut butter and tamarind juice. Add the coconut milk and water to desired thickness. Add sugar and salt to taste only at this stage.
For extra crunch, I usually add coarsely ground roasted peanuts on the top of my satay sauce at serving time.
Satay is the first on my list of My Singapore Food Tribute To Lee Kuan Yew