Saturday, September 24, 2005

Beef Satay with Peanut Sauce

What is it about food on a stick? Is it that you feel like you're eating a Tootsie Pop, or maybe a Fudgsicle? I don't know. I just know that if you put it on a stick, my family will eat it. Lint-on-a-Stick! Turd-on-a-Toothpick! Put out a yummy dipping sauce, and it will be gone. (I am suddenly reminded of The Jerk and Pizza in a Cup, the one that put the Cup o' Pizza guy out of business . . . )

Which is why, at FamilyFun, we are always trying to think of ways to get meals onto sticks. I mean, you don't want anybody to poke anybody's eye out (as a reader once reminded us, after I recommended Fruit Kabobs as an ideal classroom party snack--oops!), but kids are just more open-minded if potentially distressing food comes to them on a stick. Maybe because it's such a finite commitment: instead of vaguely defined, merging blobs of dinner on a plate, you've got a stick with a thing on it, and you can eat the thing and be done, or you can have another one. There. That's my analysis for the day.

My kids will delightedly eat a meatball off of a toothpick, a sandwich deconstructed into skewered squares of ham, cheese, and bread, or a Greek salad kabob of feta and cuke cubes, cherry tomatoes, and olives (okay, I just made that last one up--but doesn't it sound great?)--but really, satay is their very favorite. Chicken or beef, homemade or out, it's always good. So when my beautiful friends Moira and Debra finished putting together this new FamilyFun Dinnertime! special issue, they asked me to pick a recipe to run here, and I knew right away what it would be. Pretzel Chicken was close (with honey mustard dipping sauce--yum), and so was this gorgeous Thai Chicken, Mango, and Pineapple Salad (with a citrusy dressing--yum). But the kids and I all picked satay, even Birdy, who likes what she calls "sweet stick meat" despite her general aversion to animal flesh.

Plus, it's just about a perfect recipe. It's sweet and limey and salty and just spicy enough to tingle your lips. And it was quick to assemble. I have memories of this one party years and years ago, when we made chicken satay for a hundred people and, given my feelings about raw chicken, you can imagine how I felt about getting a blister from threading it onto skewers for three hours. Shudder. No. This took just a little while to put together, and I actually pulled a stool (and a glass of beer) up to the counter so I could sit while I was skewering. Totally pleasant. And then they cooked in 4 minutes. I loved the photo so much that I copied it and served the satay with rice (of course, I swapped in brown rice because I'm like that) and a cucumber salad that I made from sliced cukes, seasoned rice vinegar, and chopped mint. We ate outside and could not have been happier.

Dinnertime! It's not just that the women who created it are like angels crossed with Woody Allen, in all of the best possible ways. Or that they're my actual real-life friends. But you should think about getting it because it's got 98 simple and delicious recipes (tested and retested--believe me, as a person who works there, when I tell you that there is no shortage of testing) and inspiring photographs to give you a good sense of them. Plus, who better than FamilyFun to understand that your kid wants to eat it off of a stick, shape it like a gastropod, or turn it into a refrigerator magnet? Exactly.

Beef Satay
Serves 4
Active time: 1/2 hour; total time: 1 hour

I followed this recipe exactly, and would not change one single thing. The meat (I used flank steak) was indeed easy to slice after its 45 minutes in the freezer. I think this would be really good with chicken, and even with tofu--though with tofu, I'd marinate it longer, maybe even overnight.

1 pound skirt or flank steak, trimmed
3 tablespoons fresh lime juice
2 tablespoons reduced-sodium soy sauce
1 tablespoon Asian fish sauce
2 teaspoons dark brown sugar
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 teaspoon curry powder
1/8 teaspoon crushed red pepper
16 (9-inch) bamboo skewers, soaked in water for 30 minutes

If using skirt steak, cut the meat crosswise into 4 pieces, each about 4 inches long. Slice each piece across the grain into 4 strips 1 inch wide. Lightly pound the strips to flatten them. If using flank steak, halve the meat lengthwise, then thinly slice it across the grain into 30 to 40 1/4-inch strips. (Tip: Partially freezing the meat for 45 minutes makes it easier to slice).

Whisk the lime juice, soy sauce, fish sauce, dark brown sugar, garlic, curry powder, and crushed red pepper in a medium bowl. Add the steak and toss gently. Cover and set aside at room temperature for 30 minutes.

Prepare your grill or heat a grill pan to medium-high. Lightly oil the grates or pan.
Thread 1 piece of skirt steak, or 2 to 3 pieces of flank steak, onto the skewers, stretching each piece taut to maximize contact with the grill.

Grill the skewers until the steak is seared and just cooked through, about 2 minutes per side. Serve with the Peanut Sauce. SAFETY NOTE: If you plan to eat right off the skewer, be sure to use bamboo (not metal) to avoid burns. [Catherine here: also, if you plan to run around with the steak, don't use skewers AT ALL.]

Peanut Sauce
Makes 1 2/3 cups

I followed this recipe exactly as well, and I might think about cutting it in half next time, as it made tons. Although it is excellent on rice, so the leftovers are welcome. Note: you're going to pour the water in and think "Crap," because it's going to seem so watery. And then, like magic, it's going to thicken up. Fun!

1 tablespoon canola oil
1/4 cup minced shallots
2 garlic cloves, minced
3/4 teaspoon Thai red curry paste (we used Thai Kitchen brand)
1/3 cup creamy peanut butter
2 tablespoons hoisin sauce
2 teaspoons dark brown sugar
2/3 cup water
1 tablespoon fresh lime juice

Heat the oil in a small saucepan. Add the shallots, garlic, and Thai red curry paste and sauté over medium-low heat until the shallots and garlic are just tender and fragrant, about 3 minutes.

Stir in the peanut butter, hoisin sauce, dark brown sugar, and water. Bring the mixture to a boil and simmer for 1 minute. Stir in the lime juice and let the sauce cool slightly. Serve warm or at room temperature. 

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