Serve up Thai chicken satay with peanut sauce as a delicious appetizer or meal. The meat is briefly soaked in a coconut curry marinade for maximum flavor, then grilled until tender and juicy.
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Chicken skewers are a popular handheld appetizer for parties, or you can easily pair them with steamed rice and veggies for a heartier meal. I have a Thai-inspired marinade for this recipe that completely transforms the taste of the chicken in just 15 minutes of soaking. Grilling on the barbecue or a grill pan is quick and adds flavorful char marks to the meat.
To complement the chicken, I have a creamy peanut dipping sauce. Using a blender makes the texture super smooth. Just grab your favorite jar of peanut butter, and combine it with some of the ingredients in the marinade. Then add spicy chili sauce for a little kick of heat.
What is chicken satay?
Satay is a Southeast Asian dish prepared in Indonesia, Malaysia, and Thailand, with each region having its version of marinated grilled chicken. The meat can be cut into bite-sized pieces or long strips placed on skewers and barbecued.
Boneless skinless breast is a delicious lean protein option that quickly absorbs the marinade’s flavor. It’s also easy to cut into thick strips or chunks for hearty portions on each skewer. If you prefer thigh meat, you can use that as well. However, you will have to cut it into smaller pieces since they are not as thick.
Prepare the chicken
I prefer to cut the chicken breast into long, lengthwise strips following the grain, about ¾ to 1-inch thickness. Slicing it this way also makes it easy to lay flat on the grill for even cooking. The lean chicken protein is very tender, making it easy to bite and chew.
Alternatively, you can cut the chicken into smaller pieces and thread them onto each skewer individually. I recommend cutting them into similar widths as the slices. Adjust the cooking time to prevent the meat from drying out.
Make the satay marinade
I created a chicken marinade to highlight the characteristic flavor profile of South East Asian cuisine; umami, spicy, and sweet. I use a combination of creamy coconut milk, honey, lime juice, curry powder, fish sauce, minced garlic, and olive oil. The coconut and honey help balance the savory fish sauce while adding a fragrant tropical nutty aroma. Other sweeteners like pure maple syrup, granulated sugar, or brown sugar can be used.
The lime juice gives a citrusy taste without being too sour. The citric acid also helps tenderize the chicken, weakening the surface proteins so they aren’t tough when cooked. The curry powder adds warm, earthy, fragrant spices. It often contains a mixture of turmeric, coriander, cumin, fenugreek, pepper, ginger, nutmeg, and clove.
Marinate the meat
You only need 15 minutes of marinating time for the chicken. Cutting the poultry into slices provides more surface area for the marinade to adhere to and season. Since lime juice is added, I recommend not letting the meat soak in the acidulated marinade for longer than one hour. Otherwise, the meat’s texture will turn mushy and get dried out.
If you’d like to marinate overnight, wait to add the lime juice until the last 15 to 60 minutes before grilling.
Preheat your barbecue grill to medium heat. Since the chicken is sliced thin, it will cook very quickly. Too high of heat will dry them out. As long as the grill grates are hot and greased, stunning char marks will form, and the meat will thoroughly cook in just a few minutes.
You can also cook the skewers on the stovetop if desired. A grill pan works well to give similar sear marks but with a less smokey taste than the barbecue. You could also broil the chicken on a greased foil-lined baking pan until the surface lightly browns and the meat is fully cooked.
Make the peanut dipping sauce
Use a blender or food processor for the smoothest and quickest peanut sauce. Processed in a minute or less, the peanut butter, coconut milk, minced ginger and garlic, soy sauce, lime, honey, and spicy sriracha make for a hard to resist dipping sauce for the chicken satay.
Don’t worry if you don’t have a blender. The sauce can be whisked by hand. I recommend finely mincing the garlic and ginger to reduce the size of the pieces or using a microplane to make them into a puree. Add chopped pieces of roasted peanut to give contrast to the creamy sauce.
Serve this with
Marinate slices or chunks of meat in a coconut curry marinade for 15 to 60 minutes. Thread the chicken onto a metal or wooden skewers, about 3 ounces per portion. Grill over medium heat until fully cooked and the surface has some sear marks for flavor.
Yes, you can use dark meat like chicken thighs. The meat is slightly tougher than white meat chicken breast, therefore cut into smaller ¾” to 1” bite-sized chunks. Make sure to remove excess fat from the meat so that it’s not too greasy.
Chicken satay skewers are served with a condiment, commonly a peanut dipping sauce, or in Indonesia as bumbu kacang. There are different styles. This version uses creamy peanut butter, lime juice, coconut milk, garlic, ginger, honey, and sriracha. Other ingredients swaps include sambal oelek or Thai chilies for heat, tamarind pulp or paste for tanginess, and coconut palm sugar.
Tips for using wooden skewers
Soak the wooden skewers while you are prepping the chicken. The small sticks are very dry and can burn quickly on a hot grill. Soaking them in water will reduce the chance of them overly charring on the grill. Another option is to cook the skewers on the lower part of the grill so the wood is not in contact or touching the grill surface. You could also purchase reusable stainless steel skewers. Be careful as they become hot to the touch right off the grill.
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Chicken Satay with Peanut Sauce
- Soak the Skewers – If using wooden skewers, soak them in cool water for at least 15 minutes before grilling.
- Prepare the Chicken – Slice each chicken breast with the grain to yield long strips, about ¾ to 1-inch thick. Each breast should produce about 4 pieces, 8 total.
- Make the Marinade – In a medium bowl, whisk together coconut milk, honey, lime juice, olive oil, curry powder, fish sauce, garlic, salt, and pepper.
- Marinate the Meat – Add the chicken to the marinade and turn to evenly coat. Cover and refrigerate. Marinate for at least 15 minutes and up to 1 hour.
- Skewer the Chicken – Thread one piece of chicken on each skewer. Cover and refrigerate until ready to grill.
- Grill the Skewers – Heat the grill or grill pan over medium heat. Add some olive oil to a folded piece of paper towel, and carefully grease the grates. Once hot, add the marinated chicken skewers. Cook until no longer pink and the internal temperature reaches between 160 to165°F (71 to 74ºC), about 4 to 5 minutes per side, depending on the thickness. Transfer to a clean serving plate.
- Make the Peanut Sauce – In a blender, add peanut butter, coconut milk, honey, lime juice, soy sauce, garlic, ginger, and sriracha. Puree until smooth, about 30 to 60 seconds. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Cover and refrigerate until ready to serve.Alternatively, whisk in a medium bowl until combined.
- To Serve – Sprinkle chopped peanuts on top of the sauce right before serving.
- Recipe Yield: 8 Skewers
- Storing: Store chicken and sauce in an air-tight container for up to 5 days.
- Reheating: Cover and reheat the chicken in the microwave on high heat in 15 to 30-second increments until hot.
- Make it Gluten-Free: Use tamari or coconut aminos instead of soy sauce. Purchase gluten-free fish sauce.
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