Satay forms part of the cuisines of Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Vietnam, Thailand, Brunei and the Philippines although it is called by different names. Chicken satay may be more popular but beef satay, when cooked right, is just as delicious and just as succulent.
Satay, the grilled skewered pieces of meat so identified with Southeast Asia, is a descendant of the kebob. The Guardian quotes food writer Jennifer Brennan who “names Java as the place where the Indian kebab, imported by Muslim traders, first took on a distinctly more eastern feel.”
Eastern feel? Because satay is an adaptation of the kebob, how its Southeast Asian flavors evolved are closely tied with the produce of the regions that adapted it. Ergo, Vietnamese satay, Malaysian satay and the Filipino barbecue taste differently from one another although they are all versions of the kebob.
This beef satay is sweet, spicy, salty and tangy. In the background hover the citrusy aroma of lemongrass, the nuttiness of the coriander, and the bold flavors of garlic and ginger. The color comes from the combination of turmeric and chilies.
In the tropics where the weather is just beautiful at this time of the year, grill beef satay outdoors over live coals and serve for those countless holiday gatherings with friends and family.
Snow covering your patio and garden? An indoor grill is your best friend.
There are a few important tricks to making good beef satay:
1. Choose the beef cut carefully. Stewing beef (such as brisket and short ribs) that requires long hours of cooking won’t do at all.
2. Slice the beef thinly—a quarter of an inch, ideally—to allow the meat to absorb the flavors in the marinade quickly and thoroughly.
3. Keep the grilling time short and the grilling temperature high. Cooking beef satay is like searing the beef just to char the surface. Cook the beef for too long and the meat will turn tough.
4. While there is no fixed combination of ingredients for the marinade, combining salty, sweet, tangy and spicy will give your beef satay the Southeast Asian flavors that have made this street food so popular.
- 400 grams beef (eye round, top round or bottom round are recommended)
- 6 cloves garlic, peeled and lightly pounded
- a one-inch knob of ginger, peeled and sliced
- 2 stalks lemongrass (see tips on using lemongrass)
- ½ teaspoon coriander
- a two-inch piece of turmeric, peeled and sliced (or substitute 1 teaspoon turmeric powder)
- 2 to 3 bird's eye chilies (or substitute 1 teaspoon chili powder or ¼ cup Sriracha)
- ¼ cup patis (fish sauce)
- ¼ cup palm sugar (you may use brown sugar but the flavor will not be the same)
- ¼ cup lemon juice
- ¼ cup palm oil
- bamboo skewers
- peanut sauce (get the recipe)
- lemon slices, to serve
- Cut the beef into slices about a quarter of an inch thick. Cut the slices into strips about an inch wide and two inches long. Place in a bowl.
- In an oil-free pan, toast the garlic, ginger, lemongrass, coriander, turmeric and chilies.
- Place the toasted spices in the blender or food processor. Pour in the fish sauce, lemon juice and palm oil. Add the palm sugar. Process until a thick paste is formed.
- Pour the spice paste over the beef and mix well. Cover the bowl and let the beef marinate for at least two hours in the fridge.
- Start heating up the grill.
- Take the meat out of the fridge and thread three to four pieces with a bamboo skewer. Repeat for the rest of the beef.
- Grill the beef over high heat for two to three minutes per side. Depending on the size of your grill, you may need to do this batches so as now to overcrowd the grill.
- Serve the beef satay immediately with peanut sauce and lemon slices on the side.
- For best experience, squeeze a little lemon juice over the beef before dipping in peanut sauce.