How Do I Choose the Best Satay Marinade?

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  • Written By: Meg Higa
  • Edited By: Shereen Skola
  • Last Modified Date: 07 April 2020
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Satay is marinated and grilled meat on a stick. It is the national dish of Indonesia, and is popular throughout Southeast Asia. Recipes for the satay marinade vary widely, especially by region. Among the most common ingredients are turmeric spice, a source of heat such as chile peppers, and peanuts. Whether you choose to buy a prepared satay marinade at local markets, or to mix your own at home, another important consideration is the dipping sauce for skewered satays.

Every conceivable meat and protein are grilled as a marinated satay. Lamb, chicken, a coil of eel, and even goat testicles can be regional specialties. Pork satay is popular fast food in the Netherlands, one of Indonesia’s historical colonialists. The Asian satay style may have been a Middle East introduction of the kebob, the marinade a way of preserving meat. The peanut, an underground bean of the American continents, was introduced by Spanish and Portuguese traders.

Traditionally, the satay consisted of four pieces of meat pierced with the ribs of palm leaves. Modern versions include ground meat formed around bamboo skewers or spears of sweet raw sugar cane. From fine dining restaurants to charcoal street vendors, satay is served increasingly throughout the world. It has also become synonymous with Malaysian and Singaporean cuisine.


Turmeric is the singular spice to look for when choosing the best satay marinade. Also a common curry ingredienty, turmeric gives a satay its signature yellow color. Other spices in the marinade may include garlic, cumin and a Southeast Asian ginger called galangal. The marinade’s liquid component is traditionally palm oil, but peanut oil is most common. You should marinate your meat for up to two hours before grilling, or frying if you prefer.

A satay marinade often includes two additional ingredients — a fiery red chile paste called sambal and peanut butter. The best marinades are an earthy, complex balance of hot, sweet and a touch of sourness derived from citrus juices or tamarind paste. Grilled satay is usually served with rice or rice cakes. Slices of raw onion are also a common accompaniment.

Nearly always, satay is served with a dipping sauce. Peanut sauces are the most popular, but straight sambal and sweet soy sauce are also alternatives chosen to complement the particular meat type. Other sauces include Middle Eastern recipes. The key to choosing both marinade and dipping sauce is the adage, “not too thick, not too thin.”


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