Recipe: Indonesian Chicken Satay (Sate Ayam)

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Indonesians love their skewers of grilled meat, which they call satay. This savory snack can be bought along the streets of just about any town in Bali. Vendors even set up long, thin grilling stations and sell them for about .50 cents a skewer on the beach.

When we lived in Bali, satay quickly became one of our favorite street foods. We enjoyed it so much that we learned how to prepare it so we could share it with our friends and family back in America.

Indonesians serve satay both as an appetizer and as a snack. Not only is it a street food, it can also be found on many restaurant menus using a variety of meats.

The dish has also become popular in the Netherlands due to the major influence that the Dutch had in Indonesia's history. In many places there, french fries are served with satay sauce instead of ketchup. When traveling around Amsterdam, you will find many Indonesian restaurants serving chicken satay along with their other fantastic Indonesian cuisine.

This chicken satay recipe is easy to follow and prepare. It's an Indonesian version, a little traditional with my (Dan's) own personal spin to enhance the flavor of the chicken. My version includes an extra step: marinating the chicken before skewering and grilling. I like the added flavor a marinade brings to the chicken; it enhances the peanut-based satay sauce by adding the standard Asian flavors used in Indonesia.

If you aren't fond of chicken, feel free to use beef, lamb, or goat instead. Those are delicious, too. Either way, try this and let me know what you think.

Indonesians always serve their satay skewers with sambal kacang (pronounced kachang), which literally translates to peanut sauce.

Satay sauce cooking until just the right thickness

Satay sauce variations

Thanks to the Portuguese and Spanish traders who discovered them in the 1600's and carried them everywhere, China, India, Indonesia, Myanmar and Vietnam produce tons of peanuts every year. Needless to say, peanuts have earned their place in most Asian cuisines, both as a crunchy ingredient and in sauces.

On Bali, street foods and restaurants often feature this sauce on satay ayam (chicken skewers). A similar peanut sauce covers a hot Indonesian vegetable salad called gado-gado. Oh. My. Goodness. We never got tired of either one.

Balinese Chicken Satay

Preparing authentic satay sauce

The traditional way to make satay sauce is laborious and time consuming. After frying peanuts in oil with ginger, garlic, and chilies, you grind it all by hand with a mortar and pestle into a thick, peanut buttery paste, and then stir in other seasonings.

These days the Balinese usually make their satay sauces the lazy energy efficient way, using a pre-seasoned packet that is readily available at the grocery store. Just add water: Instant satay sauce. It saves a boatload of time and tastes authentic enough, so who can blame them? Truth be told, that's how we did it when we were living there.

Satay sauce has other wonderful ingredients that balance the usually overwhelming flavor of peanuts. Each chef makes it a little different but common ingredients include tamarind, lemongrass, lime leaves, sweet soy, chilies, palm sugar, galangal, cumin and coriander. Sometimes they will add coconut milk as well. This Balinese version includes some of them, but is just the right sweetness and enhances the grilled chicken flavor.

Try our recipe

We offer this modified version of the Balinese satay sauce in which tamarind and lemongrass add a fruity undertone and shallots and sweet soy offer a savory-sweet balance. Be very careful with the sugar, as Indonesian sauces are never sweet.

When you make this, be sure not to process the peanut butter too much since it should be a bit chunky. The sauce has to have the right consistency, not too thick (which is how they like it in Amsterdam) and not too runny (where it won't stick to the chicken) so, as Goldilocks would say, it will be just right.

If you have a different version, please share. I am always interested.

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Written by Dan

Professional photographer specializing in street, food and travel shots at As We Saw It travel blog. “Photography is unique in that it captures light in all forms, and since the Bible says YHVH (God) is light, photography captures Him in many forms.”

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