What is Satay? A Description and Recipe for Thai Kebabs

Superb Thai Beef Satay!
D.Schmidt for About.com
    55 mins
Ratings (17)

Satay is a grilled meat dish famous throughout Southeast-Asia. Indonesia is thought to be the true birthplace of satay, but the dish was carried to surrounding countries including Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, and others. The most popular satay is chicken or pork satay, but beef is also used as well as tofu satay. To make satay, you cut the meat up into thin strips or small bite-size pieces, then marinate it in a flavorful mixture of herbs and spices. The meat is then skewered onto wooden sticks (known as satay sticks) and grilled over charcoal or your own backyard BBQ. Satay is traditionally served with satay sauce, which is a fresh peanut sauce, a must for any true satay lover. This Thai kebabs or atay recipe comes to us courtesy of a family that has both Malaysian and Thai roots. It has been handed down through the generations and we ​gladly share it with you. 

What You'll Need

  • 8-12 skinless chicken thighs, cut into thin strips (For a vegetarian version, see my: Thai Tofu Satay)
  • 1 package wooden skewers
  • Satay Marinade:
  • 1/4 cup minced lemongrass, fresh or frozen
  • 2 shallots OR 1 small onion, sliced
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 1-2 fresh red chilies, sliced, OR 1/2 teaspoon to 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper, to taste
  • 1 thumb-size piece galangal OR ginger, thinly sliced
  • 1 teaspoon minced fresh turmeric OR 1/2 teaspoon dried turmeric
  • 2 tablespoons ground coriander
  • 2 teaspoons cumin
  • 3 tablespoon dark soy sauce (available at Asian food stores)
  • 4 tablespoon fish sauce
  • 5-6 tablespoon brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil

How to Make It

  1. To prevent burning, cover and soak skewers in water while you prepare the meat.
  2. Cut chicken into thin strips or small pieces and place in a bowl.
  3. Place all marinade ingredients in a food processor or chopper. Process well, then taste-test the marinade. The strongest tastes should be SWEET and SALTY in order for the finished satay to taste its best.
  4. Add more sugar or more fish sauce (in place of salt) to adjust the taste. You can also add more chili if you want it spicier.
  1. Pour marinade over the meat and stir to combine. Marinate the meat for at least an hour or longer, up to 24 hours.
  2. When ready to cook, thread meat onto the skewers. Fill up to 3/4 of the skewer with meat, leaving the lower half empty so that the person grilling has a "handle" to easily turn the satay during cooking.
  3. Grill on your BBQ or on an indoor grill, basting the meat with the leftover marinade from the bottom of the bowl. Depending on how thin your meat is, the satay should cook in 10 to 20 minutes.
  4. Serve with Thai jasmine rice and my Easy Satay Peanut Sauce for dipping. ENJOY!

Cooking Tips for Satay

If you don't have a grill, you can broil the meat in the oven on a broiling pan or baking sheet. To do so, place satay close beneath the heating element and turn the meat every 5 minutes until cooked (be sure to soak your wooden satay sticks in water before skewering).