Sate Ayam (Chicken Satay)


I didn’t intend to buy Cradle of Flavor but our public library was having a small book sale and there it was. I had seen it referenced but didn’t really know anything about it. But, for a dollar, how could I go wrong?

Saying I didn’t know anything about it is a bit of understatement. I didn’t (and really don’t) know anything about the food of Malaysia, Singapore, or Indonesia. I knew that it would share some similarities with other Asian cuisines but that was about it. I’d never even eaten it in a restaurant. But, hey, it was a dollar.

Whenever I look at Asian cuisine, I immediately get intimidated because I’m not familiar with so many of the ingredients. I know what ginger is but what exactly is lemongrass? (It’s a grass with a vague lemon flavor) Not to mention galangal? (It’s similar to ginger). I should mention that I hadn’t thought of looking at Wikipedia until now to get an idea of what they look like.

I decided to start with a dish that I had at least heard a passing reference to: chicken satay. Again, this is a dish I’ve never eaten (nor are any of the dishes in this cookbook). It seemed pretty straightforward: make a marinade, put the chicken in the marinade, skewer the chicken, and broil the chicken. The only part that was complicated was tracking down the appropriate ingredients.


Lucky for us, there are any of a number of Asian grocery stores (either Chinese, Vietnamese, or Cambodian) around us. I was able to find both lemongrass and galangal there in the produce department. I used the galangal because I could find it. I did have to travel to Wild Oats Whole Foods for the coriander seeds as I had forgotten to get them elsewhere and they have bulk spices (and it only cost me $0.08).

The rest of the recipe is beyond easy. Outside of finding the ingredients, the only slightly difficult part is deboning the chicken and, if you were smart (e.g. not me), you’d buy boneless chicken thighs and be done with it.

The flavor is quite a bit different than what I’m used to. In many ways, it’s the complete opposite of food being made up of simple quality ingredients. The flavor is very complex from a rather long list of seasonings. But, in many ways, it was the fact that it was so different from what I normally eat that it was good. I liked it but Angela did not. Take that as you will.


Sate Ayam (Chicken Satay)
Adapted from Cradle of Flavor

For the Marinade:
1 1/2 tsp coriander seeds
1 1/2 tsp fennel seeds
1 stalk fresh lemongrass
2 shallots
2 cloves of garlic
1 piece of fresh galangal, 1/2 inch long, peeled and thinly sliced (optional)
1 piece of fresh ginger, 1 inch long, peeled and thinly sliced
1 1/2 tsp ground tumeric
2 tbsp palm sugar or dark brown sugar
2 tbsp vegetable oil
1 tsp kosher salt

For the Satay:
1 1/2 lbs. bone-in chicken thighs
1 stalk fresh lemongrass
2 tbsp vegetable oil

  1. Put the coriander seeds and fennel seeds in a small food processor. Pulse until the seeds are ground into a powder, about 2 minutes.
  2. Cut the bottom and top off the lemongrass, leaving a piece about 5 inches long. Remove the tough outer layers of lemongrass. The lemongrass should be pale white-and-lilac in color. Cut the lemongrass thinly.
  3. Add the remaining marinade ingredients to the food processor. Pulse until the marinade forms a paste. Put the marinade in a bowl large enough to fit the chicken.
  4. Remove the skin from the chicken and debone. Cut the chicken into thin, bite-sized pieces. Add the chicken to the marinade and mix until the marinade coats the chicken. Allow to marinate at room temperature for 1 to 2 hours.
  5. Preheat the broiler for at least 10 minutes. Cut the top and bottom off the remaining lemongrass stalk. Bruise the thick end of the stalk with the back of a knife until the end becomes brush-like. Place the brush end of the lemongrass in a small bowl containing the oil.
  6. Place the chicken on the middle of the skewers, about 2 to 4 pieces per skewer. Place the skewers on a foil lined baking tray.
  7. Using the lemongrass brush, baste the chicken skewers with oil. Broil the chicken skewers for 5 to 7 minutes 3 inches from the broiling element. Turn over the skewers, baste with oil, and broil for another 5 to 7 minutes.
  8. Allow to cool for 1 minute and then serve immediately.

Serves 2.


8 Responses to “Sate Ayam (Chicken Satay)”

  1. 1 Hillary December 13, 2007 at 9:43 am

    Chicken satay is one of my absolute favorite Thai appetizers! I order it just about every time I’m in a Thai restaurant or anywhere it’s served. I have never made it myself though!

  2. 2 Matt December 13, 2007 at 11:03 am

    According to the cookbook, this is a Malaysian-style Chicken Satay which is sweeter than Indonesian. I’ve never ordered in a restaurant so I suppose we’re a bit opposite.

    You should try making it. It’s pretty easy as long as you can find the ingredients.

  3. 3 nag1 December 14, 2007 at 9:41 am

    I’ve been making chicken satay years. This sounds good except for the brown sugar. I serve it with hot peanut sauce.

  4. 4 Matt December 14, 2007 at 10:04 am

    The recipe recommended palm sugar but I forgot to look for it. It had brown sugar as a suggested replacement. I might have to try it with hot peanut sauce next time. What goes into it?

  5. 5 Jessamyn December 14, 2007 at 2:02 pm

    Oh, I love that cookbook! It necessitated a large shopping trip at an exotic grocery, but everything I’ve made out of it so far has been fabulous. Beware if you try any of the recipes that call for shrimp paste, though – it gives a great flavor, but it’s fantastically stinky.

    You can make a very passable peanut sauce for satay with peanut butter, soy sauce, some hot chile sauce and a bit of hot water or broth to dilute it.

  6. 6 Matt December 14, 2007 at 2:29 pm

    I may have to try the peanut sauce then. I doubt my wife would like it but she didn’t particularly enjoy the chicken.

    Any other recommendations from the cookbook? It’s hard to figure out what any of the dishes are like simply from the descriptions. I have an advance copy (what the library was doing with it I’ll never know) so there are no pictures and no page references.

  7. 7 Jessamyn December 17, 2007 at 5:01 pm

    Hmmm, I know we’ve made a shrimp sambal out of the book, one of the satay recipes, the Celebration rice (yum), something with fish and coconut milk…they’ve all been nice, although the flavors are really different from other cuisines. I’ll be doing a post later this week on a couple of Indonesian dishes – the pix are up on my Flickr account now, if you want to see what they look like.

  8. 8 lauren September 16, 2008 at 12:46 pm

    Just the recipe I was looking for! This looks very authentic. I’m going to try it. I too forgot to buy boneless chicken thighs…oh well, I’ll have to debone them like you did!

    I am nervous to cook with fennel seeds, though. I have them, but I’m tempted to use cumin, anise, or caraway seeds instead. I guess I will take the plunge!

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