Vietnamese chicken satay with nuoc cham
Chicken satay without peanuts. I couldn’t believe it myself having associated satay with peanut butter. But this recipe from Vietnamese Cooking Made Easy (recipes by Nongkran Daks, Alexandra Greeley and Wendy Hutton; published by Periplus) is peanut-free. It is light and succulent, delicate with just the right hints of complementing flavors. Served with nuoc cham, the Vietnamese sweet and sour dipping sauce, it satisfies the craving for barbecue without the grease and the fat. If you marinate the chicken and make the nuoc cham in the morning, grilling takes less than fifteen minutes so dinner is ready in no time at all. We had these grilled chicken satay for dinner last night along with the Korean noodle dish called japchae, more popularly known in the Philippines as chapchee.
Note that I deviated a bit from the proportion of the seasonings given in the original recipe. I found the marinade a bit bland and made some adjustments.
- 10 chicken thigh fillets (about 500 grams)
- 2 stalks of lemongrass (light-colored bottom portion only)
- 1 onion, peeled and chopped
- 1 finger chili
- half a head of garlic, crushed and peeled
- 4 tbsps. of soy sauce
- 2 tbsps. of oyster sauce
- 3 tbsps. of patis (fish sauce)
- 1 tsp. of salt
- 4 tbsps. of honey
- freshly ground black pepper (as much as you like)
- about 12 bamboo skewers, soaked in water for an hour prior to grilling
- Cut the chicken thighs into 1-inch cubes. Place in a bowl.
- Cut off the stem of the chili, slit lengthwise and scrape off the seeds and chop. Leave the seeds on if you prefer spicier satay.
- Bruise the lemongrass by pounding the stalks a few times with a pestle or the side of a cleaver. Chop.
- Place the chili, garlic, onion, lemongrass and liquid seasonings in a blender and process until pasty. If you don’t have a blender, finely chop the solid ingredients, transfer to a mortar, pound and grind with a pestle until mushy then mix with the liquid ingredients. Stir in the freshly ground pepper.
- Pour the marinade over the chicken, mix — with your hand preferably — working the marinade into the meat. Cover the bowl, place in the fridge and let the chicken marinate for several hours or overnight.
- Thread four to five pieces of chicken per skewer. Grill for about five minutes per side. Serve with nuoc cham.
Preparation time: 20 minute(s)
Cooking time: 10 minute(s)
Number of servings (yield): 4
Recipe: Nuoc cham
Nuoc cham is basically a sweet and sour sauce. What gives it a piquant twist is the addition of fish sauce. Whether chilis are a traditional ingredient of nuoc cham, I do not know. But chilis give the sauce a kick that really heightens the otherwise delicate flavors of the lemongrass satay.
- 2 finger chilis
- half a head of garlic
- 1/4 c. of sugar
- the juice of 1 lime (substitute lemon if lime is not available)
- 1 tbsp. of vinegar (I used cane vinegar)
- 3 tbsps. of patis (fish sauce) 1/2 c. of water
- 1/2 tsp. of salt
- Cut off the stems of the chilis, slit them lengthwise and scrape off the seeds with a knife, a teaspoon or (this is the most effective) your thumb. Chop the chilis.
- Crush the garlic and discard the skins. Place the garlic and chilis in a mortar, pound and grind to a paste. You can do it the modern way by just dumping the chilis and garlic in a food processor.
- Mix the garlic-chili paste with the rest of the ingredients. I suggest you place them all in a jar with a screw-type cap. Just shake the jar until the sugar dissolves and you have your nuoc cham.
- That’s my nuoc cham. I purposely refrained from placing it in the fridge to find out how long its shelf life is.
Preparation time: 10 minute(s)
Number of servings (yield): 4