Some people will probably question me. Why do I call this article BBQ Satay instead of plain "Satay"? The answer is simple, satay is a dish that you must barbecue to cook it properly.
Yes, sure you can grill the satay in the oven but the aroma, taste and the feel you get would be totally different.
BBQ satay is pieces of meat (the size is around 2 cm cube) marinated in spices and herbs. The meat pieces are then skewered onto a piece of thin bamboo or the middle stick of coconut leaf (lidi) about 20cm long.
The skewer are not to be filled right to the end with the meat, rather only halfway so that there will be space for the BBQ satay seller to handle the satay pieces over fire. Basically five pieces of meat cubes is enough to make a stick of satay.
Satay is always served with compressed rice cakes (nasi impit or ketupat nasi), quarters of raw onions, fresh cucumber wedges and lastly, the peanut sauce that distinguishes a good satay from another.
When I was a little girl, we only had satay on special days like to celebrate a good examination result or birthdays. Meat was more pricier than fish back then so when someone told you that he had satay for dinner, you tend to ask them: "What was the occasion?"
In the old days also, when you went for example, at Padang Kota Lama which is an esplanade by the sea in Georgetown, Penang, the BBQ satay will be placed in front of you in undetermined numbers. You only paid what you consumed at the end of the meal when the waiter counted the number of used skewers left on the table.
So, it was bad form to try to hide or throw away the used satay sticks. Of course this is no longer practiced, you order a number of satays you want and you pay, whether you manage to finish them or not.
Nowadays in the more affluent society, BBQ satay can be had everyday. In Penang, the satay sold by street hawkers at Gurney Drive and also Padang Kota Lama are well known for the locals and visitors alike.
In the state of Selangor, at a place called Kajang, Satay Kajang is synonym with oversized pieces of satay and thick delicious peanut gravy. Satay Kajang is in fact being franchised around Malaysia as fast food outlets.
In Terengganu, a state on the east coast of Malaysia, Satay Jabi at a small town called Jabi is equally famous among the locals. There are satay stalls located along the road in that area, which is a few kilometers south of Kuala Besut.
My children wait for Wednesdays nights with eagerness to have their favorite satay at the night market (pasar malam). The BBQ satay they like is very nice, with generous amount of peanut sauce, full of spices and flavor.
Now, what about the kind of meat to be had as satay? Traditionally, beef and chicken used to be the only ones you could have. Non-Muslims also do pork satay (normal to be found in Bali) and rabbits are also a specialty at certain places.
I can understand that even though rabbit meat is supposed to be soft and tender like chicken, most people cannot stomach it when they pictured the white fluffy animals being slaughtered. Neither can I.
What goes into the marinade? Quite a long list of spices and fresh herbs. They include: gelangal, lemongrass, cumin, aniseed, curry powder, chili powder, ginger, salt, sugar, honey or molasses. Of course the marinade for beef is slightly different than the marinade for chicken. For best results, marinade the meat pieces for BBQ satay overnight.
Same goes with the peanut sauce. A long list of herbs and spices go into it. Good peanut sauce has chunky peanuts in it, thick in consistency and also all the spices in it are well balanced.
The choice of skewers: lidi or bamboo? Commercially available bamboo sticks are easy to buy. In the old days, lidi or the middle stick of coconut leaves are used. There is a tip to avoid the skewers from being burned alongside the satay on the BBQ pit. Soak them for an hour or two in a jar of water. The sticks will stay moist and pliant and will not catch fire.
There is another interesting story about satay skewers. Some people who practice witchcraft by having bits of gold or diamond inserted under their skin (susuk) to remain young or pretty are forbidden to eat satay right out of the skewers. Yes, they can eat satay but the meat pieces must be first taken out of the skewers, else their charmed gold will fall out of their skin and you would look in horror at their real faces!
The satay are normally cooked over a rectangular aluminum BBQ tub measuring 1 meter in length and 20 cm in width. You can buy this satay BBQ pit easily at any hardware store. Using charcoal, a fan is needed to control the fire. Now, they use electric fan but I can still remember when hand-held fans made of pandanus leaves or palm leaves were used to coax the charcoal to glow. In fact those kinds of fans were well known as "kipas satay". "Kipas" is fan in Malay.
From Melbourne to Glasgow you can find Malaysian or Indonesian restaurants serving this special dish. Normally they are served alongside fried rice in fancy restaurants.
There are several variations and recipes for BBQ satay. Some use shortcuts for its peanut sauce by using peanut butter. Some use lemon grass stalk as the skewer. I will come up with a special satay recipe complete with its peanut gravy soon.
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