Satay (or Saté) originated in Indonesia, but over the years this dish has grown in popularity making its way across Asia and into the Western World. Traditionally, satay is prepared with thinly sliced strips of beef or chicken, which is then threaded onto bamboo skewers, grilled and served with a peanut based dipping sauce. However, with movement to other regions, additional ingredients such as pork, seafood, and vegetables found their way onto these bamboo sticks accompanied by sauce variations.
Now just because satay is cooked over a live fire doesn't mean they are the same as kebabs. Yes, they are both skewered foods cooked over an open flame, but this does not place them in the same category; trust me. Whereas the traditional American kebabs will have cubes of meat and vegetables like, onions, tomatoes, squash and potatoes, satay is made from long strips of meat. The meat is threaded (in a weaving pattern) onto skewers making them easier to handle and cook.
Satay is popular for many reasons. The flavorful sauces can be sweet, spicy, or mild. The handy form makes them great for a meal or as an appetizer. In many parts of the world you can find food stands that serve up satay as a quick snack, much like Asian fast food. The global popularity of satay is largely due to the fact that it is easy to prepare and highly portable. In the United States, the introduction of satay dates back over fifty years and is evidenced by the 1959 Kaiser Aluminum National Cookout Championship, where several of the final recipes were variations of this Indonesian dish.
So how do you make a good satay? It's very easy. First of all, you need to select the main ingredient. Pork, beef, chicken, seafood or vegetables all work great. Traditionally the recipe calls for long strips of meat cut very thin. Once you have selected the meat, it is time to choose an appropriate marinade. The marinade should match the sauce you are going to serve with the satay. As I have always said, the seasoning used before cooking should use the same flavors you are going to add during or after cooking. Say, for instance, that you were going to use the Spicy Satay Peanut Sauce. Then an appropriate marinade would be made from rice wine vinegar, soy sauce, lime juice, cumin and crushed dried chilies. Remember that if you plan to use any remaining marinade in a later sauce, it has to be boiled for at least 5 minutes first.
Satay is usually threaded onto bamboo skewers. These skewers tend to hold the meat better than metal skewers and improve the overall appearance of the dish. If using bamboo, soak for at least 1 hour in cold water before threading the meat on. With the meat marinated and the skewers soaked, it is time to light the grill. While heating up, take the opportunity to thread the meat onto the skewers. Make sure the meat does not bunch up too much. It should remain spread out so it will cook evenly. Once the grill is good and hot, place the skewers on and cook over a high heat until cooked through. With most meats, the satay will take about 4 to 5 minutes. Make sure to turn once during the cooking time. Once cooked, serve these delicious morsels accompanied your choice of dipping sauce. These make great appetizers, snacks or meals, so there is a lot of versatility out of one dish.