Nonya-Style Chicken or Pork Satay



When he was young, my father traveled throughout Southeast Asia as a salesman. I loved to hear his tales of adventure and food, such as his descriptions of satay vendors in Malaysia and Singapore. Papa said that each vendor had three or four metal grills going at the same time. The vendor would stand in front of the hot grills, engulfed in smoke, flipping, turning, and basting the tiny skewers all at the same time. As he slapped a handful of cooked satay onto a plate, a line of eager customers quickly snatched up the prizes and plunged the cooked skewers into bowls filled with different types of sauce. The price of a meal was based on the number of sticks picked clean.

Nonya cooking is a fusion of Malaysian, Indian, and Chinese cooking. The marinade ingredients for chicken and pork satay have slight variations. For chicken, the cumin is left out; the marinade for pork satay has no turmeric. Pork is not eaten by Muslim Malaysians, but it is the favorite meat of the Chinese. Serve the satay with Indonesian Peanut Sauce (page 141 in the book) and Indonesian-Style Cucumber Relish (page 152 in the book).



1 teaspoon coriander seeds
1 teaspoon cumin seeds (for pork satay)
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
4 fresh bird chiles or 2 red serrano chiles,
     minced (1 tablespoon)
1 stalk lemongrass, tough outer layers
     and green parts removed, minced (1/4 cup)
1 teaspoon turmeric powder (for chicken satay)
3 shallots, minced (1/3 cup)
1 tablespoon ground blanched almonds
1 teaspoon red miso
1/2 cup combined coconut cream and milk
     (the consistency of whole milk)

Make the Marinade

1. Put the coriander seeds in a small skillet and dry-roast over medium-high heat, sliding the skillet back and forth over the burner to prevent burning, until the spice exudes a pleasant aroma, about 1 minute. Remove from the heat and transfer to a bowl to cool. Repeat with the cumin seeds, if using. Grind in a spice grinder and set aside.

2. Pound the salt and chiles in a mortar with a pestle into a paste. One at a time, add the lemongrass, coriander (and cumin) seeds, turmeric powder, if using, shallots, almonds, and miso, in sequence, adding each one only after the previous ingredient is puréed and incorporated into the paste. Transfer to a mixing bowl and add the coconut cream mixture. Mix well and set aside.

3. If using a blender, add all the ingredients, including the coconut cream and milk, and purée. Transfer to a mixing bowl and set aside.

4. Stored in a glass jar with a tight-fitting lid, the marinade will keep overnight in the refrigerator.

Makes 2 1/3 cups



1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breasts
     or thighs or pork loin
10 to 12 bamboo skewers, soaked in water
     for 30 minutes, then dried
1/3 cup pineapple juice
Vegetable oil spray

Make the Satay

5. Slice the chicken, if using, diagonally across the grain into thin strips approximately 1/10 inch wide, or as thin as possible. Or, for pork, slice the loin lengthwise in half, then slice diagonally across the grain, like the chicken. Add the meat to the marinade, mix well, coating it thoroughly, and let sit for 30 minutes.

6. Mound the charcoals in one side of the grill, leaving the other half empty. Heat the grill.

7. While waiting for the grill to get hot, thread 3 to 4 pieces of the chicken or pork onto each bamboo skewer into a tight bundle, covering 5 inches of the skewer. Add the pineapple juice to the marinade and mix well. Set aside.

8. Spray the skewers generously with vegetable oil. Lay the skewers with the meat portion on the grill over medium-high heat, arranging them very close to one another. (The uncovered portion of the skewers should not be over the coals.) Grill, brushing lightly and frequently with the marinade and pineapple juice mixture, and turning frequently to prevent burning, until the outside is crispy brown and the inside white and tender, 10 to 12 minutes. Transfer to a platter and serve immediately.

Makes 10 to 12 skewers


Buy the Book!


Asian Grilling
85 Satay, Kebabs, Skewers and
Other Asian-Inspired Recipes for Your Barbecue
by Su-Mei Yu
William Morrow, June 2002
ISBN: 0066211190
Hardcover, 176 pages
$24.95; $37.95 (CAN)
Recipe reprinted by permission.


Asian Grilling



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