Grilled Beef Satay
From America's Test Kitchen Season 13: Skewered and Wrapped
Why this recipe works:
In the hands of American cooks, satay often comes out thick and chewy or overly marinated and mealy. To return this dish to its streetwise roots, we sliced beefy-flavored flank steak thinly across the grain and threaded it onto bamboo skewers. To add flavor, we used an aromatic basting sauce… read more
In the hands of American cooks, satay often comes out thick and chewy or overly marinated and mealy. To return this dish to its streetwise roots, we sliced beefy-flavored flank steak thinly across the grain and threaded it onto bamboo skewers. To add flavor, we used an aromatic basting sauce consisting of authentic Thai ingredients, rather than the overtenderizing marinade used in many recipes. And to ensure that the quick-cooking beef achieved a burnished exterior, we corralled the coals in an aluminum pan in the center of the grill to bring them closer to the meat.less
Grilled Beef SatayAmerican restaurants have sapped the magic from this Thai street-food favorite with flavorless meat that's either mushy or overcooked. What would it take to get it back?
Serves 4 as a main dish, or 6 as an appetizer
See below for tips on prepping lemon grass. Bamboo skewers soaked in water for 30 minutes can be substituted for metal skewers. The aluminum pan used for charcoal grilling should be at least 2 3/4 inches deep; you will not need the pan for a gas grill. Note: unless you have a very high-powered gas grill, these skewers will not be as well seared as they would be with charcoal.
- 3/4 cup light or regular coconut milk
- 3 tablespoons packed dark brown sugar
- 3 tablespoons fish sauce
- 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
- 3 shallots, minced
- 2 stalks lemon grass, trimmed to bottom 6 inches and minced
- 2 tablespoons grated fresh ginger
- 1 1/2 teaspoons ground coriander
- 3/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
- 2 tablespoons packed dark brown sugar
- 1 tablespoon fish sauce
- 1 (1 1/2- to 1 3/4-pound) flank steak, halved lengthwise, then sliced on slight angle against grain into 1/4- inch thick slices
- Disposable aluminum roasting pan
1. FOR THE BASTING SAUCE: Whisk all ingredients together in bowl. Reserve one-third of sauce in separate bowl. (Use reserved sauce to apply to raw beef.)
2. FOR THE BEEF: Whisk oil, sugar, and fish sauce together in medium bowl. Toss beef with marinade and let stand at room temperature for 30 minutes. Weave beef onto 12-inch metal skewers, 2 pieces per skewer, leaving 1 1/2 inches at top and bottom of skewer exposed. You should have 10 to 12 skewers.
3a. FOR A CHARCOAL GRILL: Poke twelve 1/2-inch holes in bottom of roasting pan. Open bottom vent completely and place roasting pan in center of grill. Light large chimney starter mounded with charcoal briquettes (7 quarts). When top coals are partially covered with ash, pour into roasting pan. Set cooking grate over coals with grates parallel to long side of roasting pan, cover, and open lid vent completely. Heat grill until hot, about 5 minutes.
3b. FOR A GAS GRILL: Turn all burners to high, cover, and heat grill until very hot, about 15 minutes. Leave all burners on high.
4. Clean and oil cooking grate. Place beef skewers on grill (directly over coals if using charcoal) perpendicular to grate. Brush meat with one-third basting sauce (portion reserved for raw meat) and cook (covered if using gas) until browned, about 3 minutes. Flip skewers, brush with half of remaining basting sauce, and cook until browned on second side, about 3 minutes. Brush meat with remaining basting sauce and cook 1 minute longer. Transfer to large platter and serve with peanut sauce.
How to Prep Lemon Grass
The tender heart of the lemon grass stalk is used to flavor many Southeast Asian dishes, including our Grilled Beef Satay. While lemon grass is often steeped in soups and stews and removed before serving, it can also be minced and left in the dish. When buying lemon grass, look for green (not brown) stalks that are firm and fragrant.
Grill Setup for Satay: East Meets West
Rooting Out Mealiness
We find that acidic ingredients and certain juices, like papaya and pineapple, often added to marinades to tenderize meat, actually turn the exterior mushy. We avoided these in our marinades- but the meat still turned mealy. Could fresh ginger be the culprit?
We soaked beef in three different marinades for 30 minutes and then grilled each sample. The first marinade contained 2 tablespoons of ginger (per our recpe), the second contained 4 tablespoons, and the third contained no ginger.
The beef marinated in 2 tablespons of ginger was markedly mealy, 4 tablespoons was even worse. Only the beef without ginger in its marinade had the proper tender- but not mushy- texture.
Fresh ginger contains and enzyme known as zingibain that, if left too long on meat, breaks down collagen on the meat's surface, producing the same mealy effect as acids and some juices. We expunged ginger from the marinde, saving it for the basting sauce instead.