"Inherent in the great tradition of satay is the tendency to tweak—to take a classic recipe and make it your own." James Oseland - Saveur
One of the family's top recipes is Robert Carrier's for what he called California kebabs in his Robert Carrier Cookbook, but which he initially published, as, I think, Indonesian satay, in his column in the Sunday Times. Which is where I discovered it, cooked it and fell in love with it. I have been making it ever since and the whole family adores it. So just quickly - for the marinade: 6 tablespoons olive oil, 2 each of soy sauce and lemon juice, a crushed clove of garlic a large teaspoon of ground cumin, and a chopped onion. Marinade and grill. I see that the recipe in the book just has a 'pinch of cumin' which is interesting because I'm sure the original had rather more - I seem to remember a dessertspoon. Anyway we always put in plenty. The longer you marinade the better it tastes - obviously. You don't need peanut sauce - the traditional accompaniment to Indonesian satay of all kinds because the marinade is a gorgeous sauce that drips into the grill pan as you cook. Indeed for this reason I prefer to cook them on the oven grill. If you barbecue them or cook them on the griddle you lose the sauce. I know that both of my children's families cook this family favourite in slightly different ways, so the quote about the tendency to tweak is very relevant. In fact, over the years I'm sure I have tweaked somewhat - more onion because everyone loves the onions, and more cumin - as I mentioned. And I certainly don't add any capsicum or anything else to the skewer as I cook it. Which Robert Carrier does in his published recipe. So he tweaked it as well. I no longer have the original - that tragic loss of all those recipes. I keep dreaming that one magical day they will all turn up somewhere strange.
But back to the inspiration for this post - the penultimate small recipe booklet on my shelf, and its first recipe. The book is The Food Safari Cookbook which was given away with Feast Magazine, when it was still in existence. Feast is long gone, but Food Safari lives on - well it did until 2020 when it's last iteration - Water - was screened and published. It was the third in the elements series. And the last? Only Air remains - maybe that's proving hard, although you would have thought there was a fair bit of scope in cooking birds.
Prior to Food Safari there was The Food Lover's Guide to Australia in which Maeve O'Mara and Joanna Savill travelled around Australia looking at the vast range of cuisines on offer, with the emphasis on the immigrant cultures I guess, but not entirely. It was very successful, won many awards and ran to 5 series.
Then Joanna Savill left to do her own thing and Maeve O'Mara started up the Food Safari franchise if you can call it that. Initially it was like the Food Lover's Guide, in that it dealt with the food of the different nationalities that make up our country. Each episode would concentrate on one cuisine, introduce you to the particular ingredients, and the classic dishes - each of which would be cooked in somebody's home - well that's what it looked like - sometimes by a professional chef and sometimes by a housewife. It was a winning strategy and ran for four seasons, And they even included the English, but not the 'Australians'. Which is sort of odd as you would think that by now there are definitely enough purely Australian dishes which have evolved over time from other origins - damper, lamingtons, chicken parma...? And what about indigenous food? Anyway for whatever reason this series approach stopped at the end of series four. She began with Morocco and ended with Broome, which I am guessing, is extremely multicultural.
Then came the two specialist cuisines - France and Italy - in which Maeve visited those two countries with Guillaume Brahimi and Guy Grossi and finally she launched into Fire, Earth and Water. Since then I think she has been concentrating on her Food Safari holidays and excursions - even through COVID I see, and SBS has been featuring Adam Liaw and The Cook Up - another long-running series. Maybe when that ends there will be more Food Safari.
My little book is just that - little - and it was created before the Fire, Earth and Water series, But I have to say, having flipped through it today it is beautifully produced and the recipes as well as being extremely tempting are obviously authentic. I might try one or two some time soon. The Chicken tagine with preserves lemon and olives, for example. Maybe it could be my next Zoom cooking class recipe.
I no longer buy food magazines, so am unlikely to pick up any more of these little booklets. The free supermarket magazines don't have them of course.
So back to the Satay sapi (Beef satay). Well I don't have a lot to say about the actual recipe. The finished result is the lead photo for this post, and it includes the peanut sauce as well. kecap manis - a vital ingredient that I have often wondered about is apparently:
"a sweetened soy sauce, with aromas of clove, coriander and black pepper."
And it's widely available. I think I even saw some palm sugar in the supermarket the other day - another ingredient. Candlenuts? I don't know but probably available in an Asian grocer's at least.
I suspect there are a thousand or more recipes for the dish, so just a couple of tiny thoughts about satay in general. They think that they came to Java in the 8th century via Middle-Eastern traders, and the Indonesians rapidly put their twist on them by using their local ingredients. As did the Thais, and the Malaysians and the rest of South-East Asia. Meat on skewers is found around the world of course, but not really in Europe. Which I find a little bit odd. After all sticking meat and cooking it on a stick would have been one of the very first methods of cooking. I guess there were whole animals cooked on spits, but you really don't hear of any specifically European kebab/skewer dishes. Mind you the British adapted the Indian Chicken Tikka to their own tastes, by adding a gravy and gave the world their favourite curry - Chicken Tikka Masala. But that's not quite the same thing. Which isn't to say that the Europeans do not make kebabs these days - anything from souvlaki to satay.
Maybe the Satay sapi is another recipe for the Zoom class, if indeed these are continuing. And I shall have to remember to pass on these tips that I found somewhere else: (apologies to the author, I have now forgotten who it was)
"Putting cold meat on a hot grill is like sticking your tongue on a frozen flagpole. It will stick. It will stick because the cold meat quickly cools the metal and that locks the two together. Once the food in contact with the metal cooks and begins to get a light charring, it will release. This is the exact moment to turn the kebabs. Fighting with stuck foods will tear apart the kebabs. Be patient and it will release"
Pretty obvious really but something I had never thought through and which applies to frying meat too.