With Memorial Day coming up this weekend, I'm ready to grill. But I have little skewers on my mind, not burgers or sausages or ribs.
I became a fan of satay long before ever visiting Southeast Asia. Some years ago, there was a popular Thai restaurant in Berkeley, Calif., that served satay. We'd have a few rounds of satay skewers as appetizers before moving on to more substantial and much spicier fare.
Indeed, it was there I learned the rudiments of Thai cuisine — from a diner's point of view, that is. Traditional green papaya salad, pad Thai, larb, fiery red curries and shellfish stews were mainstays of the menu. But we always began with satay.
It is nothing more than thinly sliced meat on a skewer. But the marinade — a rich and flavorful one, with ginger, coconut milk and spices — is the key to good satay.
For accompaniments, Thai-style satay is nearly always served with a zesty peanut dipping sauce and a spoonful of refreshing cucumber relish. Satay is versatile; it can be a savory snack with drinks, or served with steamed rice for a light meal.
Satay at home is very doable; slice the meat, marinate it, grill. You can do the prep work hours ahead, even a day in advance, so the cooking is easy. A giant grill is not necessary — a small hibachi-type, store-bought or makeshift, is the way to go. (For that matter, a stovetop grill or broiler is fine, too.)
Take care when cutting the meat. You want thin rectangular slices, which, when threaded onto skewers, lie flat. This allows the satay to cook quickly. It is especially important if using very lean meat like pork loin; thicker pieces would simply dry out before they were done. I prefer to use pork cuts that have some marbling, like shoulder.
Satay is by no means purely Thai; it is popular throughout neighboring Indonesia. But if you ever find yourself in Bangkok, where it can be 95 degrees and steamy at midnight, a cold beer and satay skewers straight from little charcoal grills can be found on any corner, a great boon for a weary traveler.
Wine pairings for Thai dishes: It's not easy to pair wines with Thai-inflected dishes. The pungent sweet, sour, spicy and salty flavors often overpower or neutralize the more delicate flavors in wine. The exceptions are often wines with lively acidity, especially if they have a touch of sweetness. For this satay, I would think first of German spatlese rieslings. Good alternatives may include pinot gris from Alsace, or you could try a dry Provencal rose, a dry, herbal white like a gruner veltliner, or a sauvignon blanc from the Loire Valley.