We have a lot of impromptu happy hours in my neighborhood. At least once a month, one neighbor or another will send out the word, and we’ll all gather for drinks and conversation. Of course, there is always some food involved, the typical quick and easy things you’d expect at these kinds of gatherings: Good cheeses and crackers; maybe some delicious sopressata or a nice chorizo; hummus; salsa, chips…you name it. All the usual suspects are there, and we invariably devour it all up.
And yet, it seems to me that we leave these events remembering the great conversation but not so much the food. So whenever it’s my turn to host, I feel compelled to create a more memorable culinary experience. Unfortunately, there’s never enough time to put together a full spread. So what I try to do, is prepare at least one signature hors d’oeuvre or appetizer and then supplement it with some of the regular fare.
When deciding what to make, I look for recipes that have two things in common. First, it must be something that I can prepare, at least in part, ahead of time, and secondly, it has to have a lot of flavor; that wow-factor that sticks in your memory and leaves your guests saying things like, “What were those little _fill in the blank_ you served last time? They were delicious.” What home cooks doesn’t like to hear that?
This recipe for chicken satay fits that bill perfectly. It calls for 12 ingredients, only one of which is chicken. The other 11 are basically the components of two unforgettable flavor bombs that will leave your guest oohing and awing and asking for more. The first is a ginger-lemongrass marinade for the chicken, and the second is an irresistible spicy peanut dipping sauce. Both can be made the night before. The chicken can marinate overnight or in as little as 30 minutes. The day of the party, I just need to grill the chicken skewers and arrange them on a platter with the dip. As an added bonus, the recipe stretches 1½ pounds into 30 chicken skewers. So it’s a real crowd-size pleaser.
The recipe comes from Bi-Rite Market’s Eat Good Food by Sam Mogannam and Dabney Gouch (Ten Speed Press). Mogannam is a chef and the owner of San Francisco’s Bi-Rite Market, which was a pioneer in the farm-to-grocer movement and helped to transform the city’s Mission District. The book is basically a grocer’s guide to shopping, cooking and the transformative powers of food and community. It includes 90 flavor-packed recipes with an emphasis on quality ingredients and are some of the most popular dishes Bi-Rite sells. I can’t recommend it enough.
CHICKEN SATAY WITH SPICY PEANUT DIPPING SAUCE
Prep Time: 40 Mins | Cook Time: 20 Mins | Total Time: 1 Hr
Yield: 30 small skewers
For this recipe, you will need at least 30 6-inch or 8-inch wooden skewers that have been soaked in water for at least 2 hours. Short on time? Prepare the ginger-lemongrass mixture and the dipping sauce and start soaking the skewers the night before.
- 1 stalk fresh lemongrass
- 1½-inch knob fresh ginger, peeled
- 2 large cloves garlic
- 2 scallions, very thinly sliced
- 1 tablespoon grapeseed or other neutral oil
- 1½ tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice, more as needed
- 4 teaspoons Asian fish sauce, more as needed
- ¾ teaspoon honey
- 1½ pounds boneless skinless chicken breasts or thighs
- ½ cup smooth natural peanut butter
- 1 teaspoon rice vinegar
- ½ teaspoon Asian chili garlic sauce
Cut the pale yellow bottom portion off the lemongrass stalk and discard the green top. Trim about 3/4 inch from the root end, then peel off and discard the tough outer layers. You should end up with a stick of only the more tender inner layers, about 1/2 inch thick and 3 inches long. Finely mince the lemongrass, along with the ginger and garlic; the pieces should be no bigger than 1/16 inch. (You can do most of this in a food processor and finish with a little hand chopping.) Put the mixture in a medium bowl and stir in all but a tablespoon of scallions, the oil, 1 tablespoon of the lime juice, 2 teaspoons of the fish sauce, and 1/2 teaspoon of the honey.
Slice the chicken into 1/3-inch-thick strips about 1 inch wide—slice across the grain and at an angle on breasts, and with the grain on thighs. You should have about 30 strips. Add to the bowl with the lemongrass mixture, stir to coat the chicken evenly, and refrigerate for about 30 minutes.
To make the dipping sauce, put the peanut butter in a small bowl. Stir in enough warm water to make a thick sauce (about 1/4 cup, depending on the peanut butter), then add the vinegar, chili garlic sauce, and the remaining 2 teaspoons fish sauce, 1 and 1/2 teaspoons lime juice, and 1/4 teaspoon honey. Taste and adjust the saltiness, heat, or acidity to your liking; thin with more water if necessary.
Prepare a medium-hot gas or charcoal grill or heat a large grill pan. Meanwhile, thread the chicken onto the skewers. Grill the chicken, flipping once, until just cooked through, 1 to 3 minutes per side. (Alternatively, you can cook the skewers under a broiler—about 8 minutes total—but they won’t brown as well.) Garnish the chicken with the remaining sliced scallions, and serve with the dipping sauce.