Editor's Note From T. Susan Chang: I used sirloin for this recipe — it was divine. As with most marinades, you can get more rapid saturation and coverage by dumping the marinade and meat in a Ziploc plastic bag (just make sure to leave the bag in a tray or bowl while it's sitting, so it doesn't leak. This is the voice of experience here.) Also, be sure to soak your bamboo skewers at least an hour ahead of time so they don't instantly incinerate on the grill.
Serves 6 as an appetizer, 4 as a light main course
Sates in Singapore play the same role as hot dogs in New York, a popular, affordable, and democratic street snack enjoyed at all hours of the day and night by rich and poor and everyone in between. So to have your sate named the best in Singapore by The Straits Times (think The New York Times of Southeast Asia) is no small accomplishment, especially if you're an ang moh, foreigner — in this case, an American: my stepson, Jake Klein. These sates were first served at the restaurant Wood, which featured Asia's first, and only, exclusively wood-burning kitchen (wood-burning grill, oven,smoker, and rotisserie). But even if you cook on a gas grill, the robust spicing of these satés will blast through loud and clear. For centuries Singapore and the Strait of Malacca were the epicenter of the Asian spice trade; the legacy lives on in these electrifying sates.
Planet Barbecue!: 309 Recipes, 60 Countries
by Steven Raichlen
Paperback, 656 pages
Workman Publishing Company
List price: $22.95
1 1/2 pounds rib eye steaks (about 1/2 inch thick)
3 tablespoons light brown sugar
2 tablespoons ground coriander
1 tablespoon ground turmeric
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 1/2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
3 tablespoons Asian fish sauce or soy sauce
3 tablespoons vegetable oil Singapore Cucumber Relish (optional, recipe follows), for serving Fried Garlic Peanut Sauce (optional, recipe follows), for serving
You'll also need 8-inch bamboo skewers; an aluminum foil grill shield
2 to 12 hours for marinating the beef
1. Cut the steaks, including the fat, into 1/2-inch cubes and place them in a nonreactive mixing bowl. Stir in the brown sugar, coriander, turmeric, cumin, pepper, fish sauce, and oil. Let the beef marinate in the refrigerator, covered, for at least 2 hours; the longer it marinates, the richer the flavor will be.
2. Drain the cubes of beef, discarding the marinade. Thread the beef onto bamboo skewers, leaving the bottom half of each skewer bare for a handle and 1/4 inch exposed at the pointed end. The sates can be prepared several hours ahead to this stage. Refrigerate the sates, covered, until ready to grill.
3. Set up the grill for direct grilling and preheat it to high.
4. When ready to cook, brush and oil the grill grate. Arrange the sates on the hot grate, with the aluminum foil shield under the exposed ends of the skewers to keep them from burning. Grill the sates until cooked to taste, 1 to 2 minutes per side for medium-rare, a little longer for medium. (In general, Southeast Asians prefer their satés medium to medium-well done.) Use the poke test to check for doneness.
5. Serve the sates with Singapore Cucumber Relish and Fried Garlic Peanut Sauce, if desired. The traditional way to eat the sates is to skewer a piece of cucumber on the pointed end of the skewer, then dip the sate in the peanut sauce.
Singapore Cucumber Relish
Variations on this simple relish/salad turn up throughout Southeast Asia. The purpose is to give you a bite of cool, crisp, crunch to counterpoint the spicy hot meat. Makes 1 to 1 1/2 cups.
2 Kirby (pickling) cucumbers, or 1 medium-size cucumber, cut in half lengthwise and seeded (see Note)
1 shallot, minced (2 to 3 tablespoons), or 1 scallion, both white and green parts, trimmed and minced 1 small hot red chile, such as a bird or cayenne pepper, stemmed, seeded, and minced
2 tablespoons rice vinegar
1 tablespoon sugar Coarse salt (kosher or sea) and freshly ground black pepper
Cut the cucumber(s) into 1/4-inch dice. Place the cucumber(s), shallot, chile, rice vinegar, and sugar in a mixing bowl and toss gently to mix. Season with salt and pepper to taste. The relish can be made up to 2 hours ahead.
Note: It is not necessary to seed Kirby cucumbers.
Fried Garlic Peanut Sauce
To most North Americans barbecue sauce is some variation on a combination of ketchup, brown sugar, and vinegar, but on any given day on Planet Barbecue probably far more people are dipping grilled meats in peanut sauce. The basic formula starts with deep-fried peanuts or peanut butter and the flavorings typically include garlic and ginger for pungency, sugar for sweetness, and fish sauce or soy sauce for saltiness. The peanut-sauce belt begins in Indonesia (its probable birthplace) and extends through Singapore, Thailand, and Malaysia, all the way to Hong Kong. The Singaporean version owes its fragrance to fresh lemongrass and ginger. Dried shrimp are available in Asian and Hispanic markets. Fish sauce isn’t a bad substitute, although you can omit it and still wind up with a killer sauce. The addition of fried garlic chips is very characteristic of Southeast Asia. Makes about 2 1/2 cups
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
5 cloves garlic, 3 cloves thinly sliced crosswise and 2 cloves minced
1 shallot, minced
1 stalk lemongrass, trimmed and minced, or 2 strips (each 1/2 by 2 inches) lemon zest
1 to 3 small hot chiles, such as Thai chiles or serrano or jalapeno peppers, stemmed, seeded, and minced (for a hotter peanut sauce, leave the seeds in)
1 tablespoon dried shrimp, minced, or 1 teaspoon fish sauce (optional)
3/4 cup peanut butter
1 cup unsweetened coconut milk, or as needed
2 tablespoons sugar, or more to taste
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 teaspoon fresh lime juice, or more to taste
1 tablespoon finely chopped cilantro Coarse salt (kosher or sea) and freshly ground pepper
1. Heat the oil in a wok or saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the sliced garlic and cook, stirring, until golden, 2 minutes. Remove the garlic with a slotted spoon to paper towels to drain. Add the 2 cloves of minced garlic, the shallot, lemongrass, chile(s), and dried shrimp, if using, to the wok and cook over medium-high heat until fragrant and lightly browned, 2 minutes.
2. Stir in the peanut butter, coconut milk, sugar, soy sauce, fish sauce, if using (instead of the dried shrimp), lime juice, and 3/4 cup water. Reduce the heat and gently simmer the sauce until it is thick but pourable, 5 to 8 minutes. Stir in the cilantro during the last 2 minutes of cooking.
3. Just before serving, stir in the fried garlic slices. If the sauce has gotten too thick and pasty, add a tablespoon or so of water. Taste and correct the seasoning, adding salt and pepper, and more sugar and lime juice if needed. The sauce should be richly flavored.
What: Tiny flame-seared beef kebabs — the cumin, coriander, and turmeric marinade rocksHow: Direct grilling
Just the Facts: What makes these sates so extraordinary is the cut of beef, rib eye, the most generously marbled steak you can buy. When assembling the sates, be sure to intersperse cubes of lean beef with fattier cubes of meat or steak fat (that's how they do it in Singapore).
Remember: Fat equals flavor. Chicken, pork, lamb, or goat sates can be made the same way.
Excerpted from Planet Barbecue!: 309 Recipes, 60 Countries by Steven Raichlen. Copyright 2010. Reprinted by permission of Workman Publishing Company.