KUALA LUMPUR, Sept 30 — Sometimes you just feel like having a quick bite. This was the case some weeks ago when my friend and I finished our dinner in Sri Petaling but were still feeling the munchies.
Thank goodness for hawker stalls. We dropped by a corner coffee shop that was bustling (apparently it does its best business at the wee hours of night) and decided the satay was the way to go.
The friendly satay vendor recommended a mix of chicken, beef and lamb. The lamb was the best by far, but it hit me that he didn’t have any seafood options. Squid or shrimp would be great on the grill but perhaps seafood satay isn’t as common as it ought to be.
Fast forward to the present and I have some fresh prawns in my kitchen. This is as good a time as any to try the satay approach: grill the prawns on skewers and prepare a peanut sauce on the side for dipping.
But why be conventional? How about adding some cilantro and gula Melaka to the ingredient list and see what we conjure up?
Fortune favours the bold: Aromatic and smoky, these grilled prawn skewers are a must-try! Trust me, seafood satay has never tasted better.
GRILLED PRAWN SKEWERS WITH CILANTRO & GULA MELAKA PEANUT SAUCE
These grilled prawn skewers are simply seasoned with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, partly because they are accompanied by a flavourful peanut sauce (more on that later).
Which is not to say the prawn skewers are plain by any means. By using lemongrass stalks rather than bamboo sticks as skewers, we infuse the grilled prawns with an added layer of aromatics.
Use lemongrass stalks as skewers.
Some sauces include finely sliced lemongrass but I find that sometimes makes the sauce a bit too coarse. Hence the presence of lemongrass in the prawn skewers themselves ensures we don’t miss out on that specific fragrance.
For the sauce itself, peanut butter is essential, naturally. I prefer crunchy to smooth.
To add layers to this basic peanut sauce, I suggest cilantro leaves and red chillies. Finely sliced, these provide the "green and red” notes to the sauce. Fresh, pungent and spicy.
Cilantro and chillies provide the "green and red” notes.
Gula Melaka adds a deep sweetness to the peanut sauce. You can always use granulated white sugar, but I find the inclusion gula Melaka lends a very Malaysian flavour to a barbecue staple that could quite honestly have hailed from any grill around the world.
There is just something about the subtle yet heady fragrance of gula Melaka that plain sugar or runny honey can’t quite duplicate. For sure, it’s a delectable scent; not overpowering but you can detect it in the sauce nonetheless.
Other influences: nam pla (fish sauce) for something Thai, sesame oil for notes from Chinese cuisine. And to balance it all, the juice and zest (finely grated, please!) of fresh limes to brighten the cauldron — or saucer, as it were — of flavours.
'Gula Melaka' for a deep sweetness and fresh limes to brighten the flavours.
Where the cooking is concerned, you can start once the charcoal is hot (or the preheated electric grill has reached the requisite high heat, maybe 250°C?). The skewers are done once the prawns have turned opaque, typically an orangish-pink tone.
Ingredients: Peanut sauce
2 tablespoons neutral oil
1 tablespoon minced garlic
4-5 tablespoons crunchy peanut butter
Small bunch of cilantro leaves, finely sliced
4 red chillies, finely sliced
2 tablespoons gula Melaka, crushed
1 tablespoon nam pla (fish sauce)
1 tablespoon sesame oil
2 limes, juice and zest
Ingredients: Prawn skewers
12 large prawns, peeled and deveined
6 stalks of lemongrass, pre-soaked in water
Neutral oil, for brushing
Sea salt, to taste
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Add the oil to a pan over medium heat. Once the oil is hot, add the minced garlic and sauté until fragrant. Next add the water, peanut butter, cilantro, red chillies, gula Melaka and nam pla (fish sauce). Stir until well combined.
Once the sauce has started to gently simmer, remove it from the heat and add the sesame oil, lime juice and lime zest. Give this a quick stir until smooth.
Pour the sauce into a large saucer and set aside the sauce for use later.
Start grilling once the charcoal is hot.
Preheat your grill, be it charcoal or an electric one, for cooking over high heat.
Insert a pre-soaked lemongrass stalk (acting as a skewer) into the middle of a cleaned, uncooked prawn. Repeat until you have two prawns per skewer and all the prawns are used up.
Lightly brush the prawns with oil before liberally seasoning with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper.
The skewers are done once the prawns are orangish-pink.
Grill the prawns, for a minute or so on each side until the meat has turned an orangish-pink. Remove from the grill and serve with the peanut sauce you made earlier.
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