Photo credit: chooyutshing

Slightly sweet with a kick of spice and savory flavors—that’s what comes to mind when I think of putting together a Thai dish. We came up with this satay recipe after visiting a local favorite restaurant, The Thai Bistro. While I enjoyed the coconut soup—and the entree, Drunken noodles—my favorite part of the meal was the appetizer, satay. These strips of turmeric-laced chicken skewers are more often given to start out the meal, but around our house, they make the meal.

Skewers take some work to put together—you have to cut the chicken into thin strips, marinate it, thread it onto sticks (and soak the sticks so they don’t burn), and then grill. Lacing 20 or so strips of chicken onto sticks can be tedious and a bit time-consuming, but the efforts are worth it. My kids love the tangy flavor of satay—and, of course, having a chance to eat off a stick. And the leftovers are tasty (that’s if you have any!). Yes, I have eaten them cold for breakfast.

Still aren’t convinced that chicken skewers are worth a few pokes when you’re putting them on the stick–and yellow fingers from the turmeric? What I like about satay is that the flavors are unique and fresh. Our friends put on an Iron Chef competition at their house (yes, it was modeled after the popular Food Network show). Each couple brought a dish using the “secret ingredient.” They told us the ingredient about a week before the get-together, limes. We brought these skewers, decorating a large serving dish with most of the skewers lying down and some poked into a half-cut orange (the oranges cut side are down on the platter and then the sticks are pushed into the round part; make sure to balance these carefully). Sure enough, the flavor-drenched chicken skewers won overall—and there was some steep competition—lime cheesecake, lime rice, pork roast in a lime marinade and more. Our prize? Bragging rights and a $10 gift certificate to Carvel’s.

Is your mouth watering yet? Time to make some satay.

Inspired by a dish in Steven Raichlen’s The Barbecue Bible.
Prep time: 40 minutes + 1 hour marinating + 10-15 minutes grilling
Servings: 4
3 lbs. chicken breasts
1 14-ounce can coconut milk (regular or light)
6-8” Wooden skewers

4 Tablespoons dark soy sauce
2 Tablespoons fresh lime juice
2 cloves garlic
1 teaspoon turmeric
1/2 Tablespoon ground coriander
2 teaspoons cumin
3 Tablespoons fish sauce (or 1 ½ tablespoons soy sauce + 1 ½ tablespoons chicken broth)
4 Tablespoons honey
1 bunch Cilantro, wash and cut the stalks into ¼” pieces (save the leaves for garnish)
¼ teaspoon cayenne powder (optional, but adds a kick)

Optional: Cucumber relish (see recipe below)

Whisk together all of the marinate ingredients. Test the flavors with your fingertip—you may want to add a little more honey for sweetness or a little more fish sauce for tartness.

Cut the chicken into thin, ¼” strips. (You can place fresh chicken in the freezer for 30 minutes or so to make for easier cutting.) Place the chicken strips into a large, heavy Ziploc bag. Place the chicken in the bag in a large bowl.

Add the marinade ingredients to the bag of chicken and marinate for at least one hour, up to 24 hours. Note: turmeric stains cooking dishes with a yellow color, so the bag helps protect your baking ware. Also, we use cilantro stalks as a substitute for the more traditional lemongrass. Cilantro is easier to find and we like the buzzy flavor.

While the chicken is marinating, fill a large dish with water and submerge the wooden skewers into the water. They should be covered completely. Soak for at least 30 minutes to prevent burning once they’re on the grill.

Thread the chicken strips onto the wooden skewers and place on a cookie sheet until all of the skewers are done and you’re ready to start grilling. Do not thread the chicken completely over the skewer—you should leave about 1½ inches at the end so that you have something to grab with tongs to turn and rotate the chicken on the grill.

Heat the grill to medium-high heat. Put 1/3 cup of coconut milk into a dish and get ready a long-handled basting brush. Place the skewers in the grill and cook on each side for 4 to 5 minutes. (Watch the skewers carefully, because they will cook fast!) Baste the skewers as the cook with coconut milk. The added fat will not only improve the grilling, but it will add great flavor.

Serve over steamed rice, butter lettuce, or eat plain.

Cucumber Relish
*Prepare at least an hour before grilling the chicken so that the relish has time to chill.
Prep time: 25 minutes
Servings: 4

2/3 cup water
2/3 cup white vinegar
½ scant cup white sugar
½ red onion
1 English (seedless) cucumber
¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes

In a small saucepan heat the sugar and water over medium-high heat until it just thickens. Add in the vinegar. Allow to cool. Toss in red pepper flakes. Cut the cucumber into thin, quartered pieces. Thinly slice the red onion either into rounds, or quarters, depending on your preference. Add into the thickened sauce. Chill in the refrigerator. Serve alongside the satay.

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