The World of Satay
A cook's guide to the appealing and adaptable combination of skewers, meat, and heat.
Enlarge Image Credit: Todd ColemanA Southeast Asian Craving
There's nothing more delicious than satay fresh off the grill, when the skewers of seasoned meats are hot, juicy, and infused with the flavor of smoldering charcoal. Though it's the ultimate southeast Asian snack, satay is believed to be a descendant of the kebabs that Middle Eastern merchants introduced to Java, in western Indonesia, in the eighth century. Local cooks adapted the dish to include indigenous ingredients, and in the centuries that followed, satay proliferated, resulting in countless regional variations. The ones pictured here reflect three classic styles. Muu satay, or pork satay, from Thailand (left), is sweet with coconut milk; what sets it apart is the pork, which you rarely find in Muslim Malaysia and Indonesia. Chicken satay (middle), called satay ayam in Malaysia, comes from the northeast coast of that country and is marinated in a spice market's worth of seasonings, from ginger to fennel to coriander. In western Java, satay is traditionally made with beef or goat; it's also delicious with lamb (right), called satay kambing: The tamarind marinade, laced with ginger, tenderizes the meat and lends it a subtle tang.