Malaysian Shrimp (or Chicken) Satay

September 19, 2018





Okay, full disclosure: When I first saw this recipe for grilled Malaysian satay, I thought, “Wait. Satay is Malaysian?” I’ve had satay (grilled skewers of meat or fish) in Thai restaurants, Japanese-fusion restaurants and even a couple of Indian restaurants. I didn’t even know there was such a thing as Malaysian cuisine.

And then I felt embarrassed and woefully ignorant. So here’s the upside; if you all can benefit from my stupidity, I’m all for it. This dish is fragrant, nuanced deliciousness.

Turns out, Malaysian food is a multi-ethnic mashup of lots of worldly flavors. It’s got elements of Chinese, Indian and Malay cuisine. You’ll see a lot of the usual Asian flavor-bombs in Malaysian fare: shallot, ginger, garlic, lemongrass, lime, chile and coconut. While Malaysian food is full of nose-tingling spices, it’s not spicy. You’re not going to singe your tastebuds like you would at a Bombay curry house or Thai restaurant. The flavors are a little more forgiving for delicate palates. No worries, though–there’s plenty of punch packed in there.

I first made this recipe using chicken thighs and the result was scrumptious. I made it this summer for a lunch with friends and between the four of us, we devoured the entire batch of chicken (which technically feeds six). Once we started eating it, we kind of attacked the platter like storming locusts. I didn’t think the recipe could get any better but then I slathered some of the leftover marinade on shrimp and you know what? It. Totally. Rocked.

I especially liked it because shrimp take a lot less time to marinate and grill. If you use chicken, it’s at least a 4-hour wait time in the marinade–and while it’s certainly worth it, shrimp only need a 30 minute bath in the marinade to soak up all of the complex flavors. That makes it perfect for busy nights.  Or hot ones–it may be mid-September, but we have been in the 90’s for over a week straight. Poor Mozz-man keeps wagging to go outside and once there, looks back at me like, “WHY?” I don’t blame the little man.

Another plus–if you own a grill basket, you don’t even need to thread the shrimp onto skewers! Just plop them in a well-oiled basket in a single layer, grill one side, flip, grill another minute or two and done! I think it’s worth owning a grill basket solely for the ease of grilling shrimp. Putting those suckers on skewers can be a messy affair.

When I made the chicken version, I served it with a salad of chilled sesame noodles.  It would also be great with rice pilaf and a simple vegetable side. I made the shrimp version on a day I was feeling particularly lazy…I served it with warm naan bread and a cooling salsa of summer corn, tomatoes, red onion, lime and cucumber. It felt like the perfect end to a sweltering day, especially with a nice cold lager or glass of Pinot Grigio.

Just because the fall schedule has started doesn’t mean I’m ready to part with the grill just yet. The supermarkets might be trying to rush us into autumn with their Halloween displays, but Colorado has some fighting words about that. The upside is that we still have those last balmy nights worth fighting for. All the sweeter knowing that they’re numbered.

Malaysian Shrimp (or chicken!) Satay

serves 6

slightly adapted from Bon Appetit


12 shallots, sliced

1 stalk lemongrass (bottom 1/3 of stalk only, 2-3 outer layers removed), sliced

1-inch piece fresh ginger, peeled

1/4 cup neutral oil, such as canola or grapeseed

1 1/2 teaspoons ground turmeric

3 tablespoons whole coriander seeds

1 1/2 tablespoons whole cumin seeds

1 1/2 tablespoons whole fennel seeds

1/4 teaspoon chile flakes

1/2 cup sugar

1 teaspoon salt

3 pounds jumbo shrimp, peeled and deveined OR 2 1/2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs, cut into 1-inch chunks

Metal skewers or bamboo skewers (soak them first to prevent burning on the grill)


In a blender, combine shallots, lemongrass, ginger, turmeric, and half of the oil and blend to a paste.

In a dry pan over medium heat, lightly toast the coriander, cumin and fennel seeds until fragrant. Remove spices and finely grind using a spice or coffee grinder.

In a large bowl combine wet paste, toasted spices, chile flakes, sugar, salt and remaining oil. Add shrimp or chicken and mix well. Cover and marinate in the refrigerator for 30 minutes if using shrimp; if using chicken, marinate in the refrigerator for at LEAST 4 hours.

Thread the shrimp/meat tightly onto skewers, leaving at least an inch of space on the bottom (so you have space for turning them).* Reserve any marinade leftover in the bowl.

Combine the leftover marinade with a cup of water in a small saucepan. Bring the mixture to a boil and cook for 6 minutes, or until thickened.

Heat a grill or grill pan over high heat and grill the skewers (in batches if your grill is small) for 3-4 minutes total, if using shrimp. Brush with glaze the last 30 seconds of grilling.

If using chicken, grill for 8 minutes, turning skewers once. After 8 minutes, brush the glaze onto the skewers. Grill 2 more minutes; flip, re-glaze and grill 2 minutes more. Your grilling time will be about 12 minutes total.


*I like to skewer shrimp using two side-by-side skewers to prevent the shrimp from rotating around the skewer or falling in between the cooking grates.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

elizabeth September 19, 2018 at 7:04 am

If it makes you feel any better, I had no idea that satay was a Malaysian dish either, so I learned something today! I will have to save this one for chicken thighs when I’m in the mood for something different and need to add something new into the rotation.


Dana Talusani September 19, 2018 at 2:54 pm


The toasting and the grinding of the spices will seem fussy to a lot of people, but I’ve gotten used to doing it when I make Indian food and it definitely makes a difference!


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