malaysian chicken satay

malaysian chicken satay
Campbell Road in downtown Kuala Lumpur in the 1970s was where the best hawker food was. It was where my father and I indulged in our passion for noodles and satay. At 10 cents a stick, you would order batches of five or six sticks at a time or 10 or 12 if feeling a bit hungrier, which would satisfy us until the next week when we could fill our boots again.

Satay was the perfect finger food; as children my brother and I would compete to see how many skewers of grilled fragrant and sticky meat that we could eat, by counting up the wooden skewers at the end of our meal. (Quite a lot as it turned out!)

We would eat the satay (usually beef or chicken) with an accompaniment of pressed rice squares, which helped soothe some of the chilli heat, together with a fresh, sweet and sour cucumber pickle.

Serves 4
Skill level: Easy

bamboo skewers, soaked for 1 hour
1kg chicken fillets, chopped
1 cm fresh ginger, peeled and chopped
1 lemongrass, finely sliced
½ tsp ground turmeric
3 garlic cloves, chopped
3 shallots, chopped
1 tsp palm sugar
2-3 tsp ketjap manis (or dark soy sauce with a pinch of sugar)
vegetable oil
½ tsp ground coriander
½ tsp ground cumin
peanut sauce *
250g plain peanuts, toasted (roughly crushed)
1-2 tsp tamarind paste
1 tsp palm sugar
1 tbsp ketjap manis (or dark soy sauce with a pinch of sugar)
200ml coconut milk
100ml water (or more if needed)
juice of fresh lime (optional)
spice paste

1 red Birdseye chilli, chopped
1 cm fresh ginger, peeled and chopped
1 lemongrass, finely sliced
3 garlic cloves, chopped
3 shallots, chopped
½ tsp ground turmeric
vegetable oil
squares of pressed cooked white rice, to serve
a quick pickle of chopped de-seeded cucumber, red onion and red chilli, made with a marinade of 1-2 tsp boiling water, 1 tbsp sugar, 1 tbsp rice vinegar


  1. The day before eating, prepare the marinade for the chicken. Cut the chicken into large bite-sized pieces. (They need to be large enough to stay on the bamboo skewers while cooking.)
  2. Blend all the marinade ingredients together in a blender. Spread over the meat and make sure it is massaged in. Cover with cling-film and leave in the fridge overnight.
  3. Remove from the fridge about an hour before cooking, to allow to reach temperature.
  4. Make sure that you have soaked your bamboo skewers in water for at least an hour before assembling the chicken.
  5. Make the peanut sauce by blending all the spice ingredients together.
  6. Heat 2 tsp of oil in a saucepan. Tip in the spice paste and stir fry until the paste is beginning to caramelise. Stir constantly.
  7. Add a little of the coconut milk and stir through. Add the rest and the water, together with the tamarind paste, sugar, ketjap manis and ½ the crushed peanuts. Bring to the boil, and then simmer for 5 minutes.
  8. Check the seasoning. Add more ketjap manis if needs more salt, or more sugar if too sour. (At this stage you can add fresh lime juice if you like it tart!) Add the rest of the peanuts. Bring back to the boil, and then simmer for another 2 minutes, then set aside while you cook the chicken.
  9. Pre-heat the grill on high for 5 minutes.
  10. Skewer the chicken. I find the best way to do this is to cut the meat (before marinating) into thick strips and then thread one strip of chicken per skewer. However, this isn't always possible. If not, I usually skewer 3 to 4 chunks of chicken onto each skewer, making sure that all of the skewers are roughly the same size.
  11. Grill for 2 to 3 minutes on each side, so that the meat is cooked through and slightly charred.
  12. Serve with cubes of pressed rice, bowls of peanut sauce and cucumber pickle.

  • * I often replace the fresh peanuts in the satay sauce with homemade peanut butter. It saves time and doesn't compromise on flavour.
  • The rice is ordinary plain rice. Sometimes I replace some of the water with coconut milk so that the cooked rice is lightly fragranced with coconut. This does make the rice slightly stickier than usual which makes it perfect for creating rice cubes. To do this, I cover a brownie baking tray with a large piece of clingfilm so that there is clingfilm trailing down the sides of the tray. Tip the rice in and spread to the corners of the tin in an even layer. I place another brownie tray on top of the rice and press down. I weight the top tray down further with tins of beans and leave the trays in a cool place, usually overnight. This compresses the rice, so that when you turn the rice out onto a chopping board it is easy to cut the rice into cubes.


Unknown said...

wish I was there with you back in the 70's!... I love this dish, it looks so perfectly spicy and ideal for snacking too... it's only early but i'm hankering now!

Jacqueline Wilson said...

I lived in KL in the early-mid 70s (worked at Australian High Commission) and you bring back memories of Jalan Campbell! We all loved the Satay, and my favouritie memory is Chili Crab at Port Klang. I also remember an Indian restaurant called Bangles.
I returned to KL a few years ago and did not recognise anything. Progress, eh!?