An classic Indonesian recipe for Chicken Satay with Peanut Sauce, learned from a true Balinese cook in Bali! Also, a recap of my trip to Bali, Indonesia.
Bali. Wow. What a wonderful, absolutely magical place. My trip to Bali was incredibly amazing; the amount of culture, tradition, passion, and of course, food, that lies within that island is extraordinary. Add to that, I explored this place with my family, and it becomes 10 times better.
I know you’re all dying to hear about the food – and it’s coming, promise – but first I want to share with you the culture of Bali. I’m so unaccustomed to the culture that I yearned to learn all I could about it! Bali people primarily practice Hindu, so being there for one of their biggest holidays was fascinating. On July 6th, most of the island celebrated ‘Hari Raya Gayugan’, a holiday celebrating the victory of Virtue (Dharma) over Evil (Adharma). Signs of the holiday were everywhere we looked – mini temples, offerings, children playing their instruments behind the ‘barong’ (a creature representing the struggle between good and evil), ‘banten’ in front of every house (beautifully woven young coconut leaves adorned with flowers, cakes, and intricate designs), and of course, the people praying to their gods in every temple we passed. It was so interesting to see how their religion influences their everyday lives, when I’m typically used to seeing religion only coming out in full force for the holidays. In Bali, people focus everything they do around their religion, celebrating their lives and thanking the gods for what they have at every chance they get. It’s an inspiring feat.
One of the things I found most interesting about the Balinese people is their naming traditions – if I met someone named Wayan, I’d know they were the first-born in their family. Made is second born, Nyoman is third, and Ketut comes fourth. While it seems like some sort of population limitation, implying families should have no more than four kids, that doesn’t seem to work so well. So, the Balinese make use of their skills of basic arithmetic and start again at Wayan and repeat the names as many times as necessary. A little different from the many Rebeccas, Katies, Bens, and Daniels we have in the US.
As our driver (Wayan, of course) told us, the kids here in Bali aren’t all that different from the kids in U.S. He moaned about how kids “only like computer and hand phone! No book or reading anymore!” Sound familiar? Sure, they start driving a little sooner than us Americans (most Balinese children start learning how to drive a motorbike around the age of ten! Could you imagine the uproar if that happened in the U.S.?!) but they seem to be pretty similar in most other senses. Back to the motorbikes though – those things are terrifying. Driving in Bali isn’t exactly…civilized, to say the least. The roads are unpaved, they’re not too fond of stop signs or stop lights, and a 2 lane road ends up with four lanes, but craziest of all is those motorbikes. They are everywhere, hundreds on every street, weaving in and out of the cars, sometimes carrying up to four people. On one bike. Sounds like a safety concern to me. As our driver Wayan said, “Motorbike everywhere! Like mosquitos!” and when one happened to cut in front of us…”stupid! So stupid!!” However, it felt okay to deal with the traffic and the driving so that we could get to some of the most incredible beaches and towns any of us had ever laid eyes on.
My personal favorite of those beaches was Jimbaron beach. Even though the town is known for its fish markets…our experience at the fish markets wasn’t so great. Without going into details, they messed up our orders and mommy dearest got a little ill. However, once we ventured to the Four Seasons at Jimbaron (on the list of 1000 places you must see before you die), it was impossible not to fall in love with the place. Seriously, look at these pictures and tell me you wouldn’t be happy there!
Incredible, no? I was in awe the entire time. But now it’s time to start talking about my favorite part of the entire trip: the food, of course! I went to Bali expecting to have mostly Indonesian food, and while we did have a lot of delicious Indonesian food, I think we had even more food from other parts of the world. One restaurant, La Lucciola, blew my mind. The food was absolutely incredible…Italian in Bali? Who would’ve thought. It totally works though; I had some of the best Bolognese I’ve ever had EVER. While I didn’t get a picture of the main courses, I did snap photos of our appetizers.
OK – on the left is my mom’s calamari which she absolutely loved. They were tender, not over-fried, and just delicious. In the middle were my Aunt Veronica’s ricotta-stuffed zucchini flowers. Yum! Those were tasty. Last but not least was my caprese salad with aged balsamic and garlic crumbs. Ohh, so good! Definitely the best caprese salad I’ve ever had…and I’ve had a lot. It was incredible. So La Lucciola was my favorite restaurant in Bali, but my favorite food experience was the cooking class we took.
The class was held at a Balinese house, taught by Balinese people, but it wasn’t just the cooking that we learned about, it was the culture. First, they took us to the market (the non-touristy one) where they showed us tons of ingredients, some familiar, some completely new. It was so lively and colorful and they welcomed us as if we lived there ourselves. The flashy green of the leaves, the soft browns of the piles of ginger, the robust red of fresh turmeric, and the sassy pinks and purples of the flowers used for the daily offerings were intoxicating; it was a place that truly showcased the effort, love and care that the Balinese put into their lives.
After the tour of the market, we headed to the family compound. The Balinese live with their entire families – every generation. When a girl marries, she goes to live with the husband’s family. Hope they get along with their in-laws!! When we got there, they served us Bali coffee and delicious fried bananas. After that, we saw the mother of the house making – yes making – coconut oil. They use coconut oil for everything, and every morning one of the young boys climbs up the coconut tree, grabs a few, and gives them to the cook of the house to make the coconut oil. Crazy, isn’t it? I mean in San Diego a jar of good quality coconut oil is at least 10 dollars!
Next we got working on the prep work. We chopped all the above: garlic, ginger, aromatic ginger, chilis, turmeric, tomatoes, sweet potatoes, tempeh, mostly familiar things, with a few foreigners thrown in. We learned how to make so many things, including sweet potato rice, ‘Cram Cam Gedang Mekuah’ (also known as Red Bean and Green Papaya Soup), ‘Tempe Manis’ (a fried soybean cake), a salad of blanched greens, and my favorite, and the recipe I’ll be sharing with you today, ‘Sate Tusuk Babi’, also known as skewered, marinated chicken (or pork or beef) with a spicy, delicious peanut sauce. Mm…it was seriously so good! So listen up, and bring some Balinese culture into your home with this incredible dish!
First, fry up the peanuts, ginger, garlic and chili slices. Fry until the peanuts are golden brown and the garlic is toasted, but not burned. Drain the peanut mixture. Place in either a food processor or mortar and pestle.
Put the peanut sauce in a wok or saucepan. Stir in 1/2 cup coconut milk, sweet soy sauce, palm sugar syrup, and lime leaves. Let it simmer and slowly adding the rest of the coconut milk. Let it simmer for about 10 minutes, stirring frequently. It should darken in color a bit. When it’s done, place in a serving bowl and cover to keep it warm.
So if you listened to my hint, your chicken should be done marinating around the time you finish your peanut sauce.
P.S. Wanna know even more about our experience in Bali? Read my sister’s blog, One Step (Or Stumble) At A Time, where she details our time in Bali wonderfully.
Chicken Satay with Indonesian Peanut Sauce
For the chicken satay
- 1 "cone" pilloncillo or palm sugar*
- 2 large red chili peppers halved, seeded and sliced
- 1 shallot minced
- 8 cloves garlic minced
- 1/2 inch fresh ginger minced
- 1/2 inch fresh turmeric minced
- 3 candlenuts lightly toasted (macadamia nuts can be subbed here)
- 1/2 tsp coriander seed crushed
- 1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
- 1/4 cup vegetable oil
- 1/2 cup water
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 6 chicken tenders diced
For the peanut sauce
- 2 1/2 cups raw peanuts shelled
- 5 cloves garlic sliced
- 3 to 5 bird's eye chili slices depending on how spicy you want it
- 2 tablespoons minced ginger
- 2 tablespoons palm sugar syrup
- 1 14 oz can coconut milk
- 2 tablespoons sweet soy sauce tamari for GF
- 2 kafir lime leaves
- 1 teaspoon fresh lime juice
- 1 teaspoons shallots
- Salt to taste
- Vegetable oil for frying
For the chicken satay
- Soak satay sticks in water for about 4 hours before you plan on using them. Place the palm sugar in a saucepan and cover halfway with water. Boil down until it becomes syrupy.
- Place all ingredients except chicken into a food processor and process until paste-like.
- Transfer paste into a heavy pan and simmer over medium heat for approximately 10 minutes or until water is evaporated and the mixture gets a bit darker. Take off heat and let cool slightly.
- Combine 2 tablespoons of the palm sugar syrup with the paste. Combine with chicken until chicken is completely covered, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for at least 1 hour.
- Make the peanut sauce while marinating (recipe below).
- After the peanut sauce is made and 1 hour (at least) has elapsed, retrieve the chicken and the skewers. Spear four pieces of meat tightly on each skewer until all the chicken has been skewered.
- Grill over medium heat for about 10 minutes, flipping the skewers halfway through, or until the chicken is cooked through. Serve with peanut sauce.
For the peanut sauce
- While the chicken is marinating, heat a wok or saucepan with about 3 inches of vegetable oil. Fry the peanuts, garlic, chili slices, and ginger until the garlic and peanuts are golden brown.
- Transfer the ingredients (sans oil) into either a mortal and pestle or a food processor. If using the former, grind all ingredients for about 10-15 minutes or until very finely ground and peanut-butter like. If using the latter, process all the ingredients together until they have become peanut butter.
- Place the peanut mixture into a wok or heavy saucepan. Stir in 1/2 cup coconut milk, sweet soy sauce, palm sugar syrup, and lime leaves. Bring to a simmer and slowly add in the rest of the coconut milk. Let simmer for about 10 minutes, stirring frequently.
- Add the lime juice and sprinkle with shallots before serving. Cover to keep hot while cooking the chicken.
*If you can't find palm sugar, use about 1 cup dark brown sugar with 1/2 cup water.