Big Girls, Global Kitchens: Asian Skewers

EVENT: Jor’s 25th
DISH: BBQ Chicken Satays, Baked Tofu Toothpick Satays
CHICKEN MAIN INGREDIENTS: Cheap BBQ Sauce, Chicken, Cilantro
TOFU MAIN INGREDIENTS: Tofu, Soy Sauce, Sesame Seeds

One weekend this summer, at my friend’s share house in the Hamptons, I got roped in to helping the boys prepare a BBQ-centric birthday dinner for our friend Lydia. It was a rather refreshing experience, since I wasn’t actually put in charge of anything, and, instead, helped Graeme, the grill-master, prepare a marinade for his famous ribs. The sauce, which was passed down from his grandmother, was as good as it was easy—so easy, that I managed to come away from the weekend with the recipe fully memorized, and so good, that I did so with full intention of stealing it (with credit to Grandma Lee, of course).

This year for Jordana’s Birthday, Cara and I decided to go with an Asian-themed feast. For finger food-oriented events, we love how things look on skewers. Back when Cara catered in college, she would stick anything and everything on kebab sticks and toothpicks, and last Magazine Club, Julie even got in on the game, stabbing mozzarella and roasted peppers on little sticks and arranging them around a bowl of pesto. For a nice veggie-carnivore pairing, we decided to put out two of the main protein sources at Jordana’s in a similar manner, and we wound up with this beautiful arrangement of side-by-side satays, one tofu, one chicken. For both, we built the sauce right into the skewered protein, Cara with a nice, classic, sweet soy sauce, and me with this Asian BBQ sauce.

As I was researching recipes for classic peanut satays, I remembered Graeme’s ribs, and how freaking good they were. It’s unclear why they come out tasting distinctly Asian, since Grandma Lee’s secret ingredient is cheap cheap barbecue sauce. But for some reason, the mysterious liquid, bettered by an entire head of garlic, jalapenos, and cilantro, transforms in the oven to a sauce of such complexity and flavor, that the secret recipe could only have been passed down by someone’s grandmother.

The chicken satays were no different, if a little less messy than the traditional rib the sauce was intended for. But, then again, that is the beauty of a skewer.

From our kitchen, where one on a stick is worth two in the hand, to yours,



BBQ Chicken Satays
Makes 32 Skewers


2lb boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into strips (about 4-5 per breast)
18oz generic BBQ sauce (I used Sweet Baby Ray’s, but it can be Kraft or whatever is cheapest)
1 bunch cilantro, lower stems (section without leaves) removed, coarsely chopped (plus more for garnish)
1 head garlic (about 15 cloves), removed from skin
2 jalapenos, seeded and coarsely chopped
3 inch knob of ginger, peeled, chopped
½ tbsp salt

32 bamboo skewers

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

In a small food processor, puree the BBQ sauce, cilantro, garlic, jalapenos, ginger, and salt.

In a large mixing bowl, toss the chicken strips with the marinade. Let stand in the refrigerator for at least 20 minutes, or up to 4 hours.

While the meat is marinating, soak your bamboo skewers in warm water.

Thread each chicken strip onto a skewer and place on a foil-lined cookie sheet. The skewers can line up next to each other in both directions, so the wood is meeting in the middle.

Bake in the oven for 10-15 minutes until chicken is cooked through, spooning the excess sauce over the pieces of chicken halfway through the cooking process.

Fan out on a platter, with the skewer ends facing out and garnish with a handful of cilantro leaves. Can be served room temperature.

Soy Sauce and Sesame Tofu Satay
Makes 60 pieces


3 boxes (about 3 lbs) extra-firm tofu
1/4 cup canola oil
1 teaspoon dark sesame oil
1/2 cup soy sauce
4 tablespoons sugar
1/4 mirin (rice wine)*
1 tablespoon sesame seeds

*Mirin is a great pantry item. If you don’t have any, substitute regular white wine or dry sherry.

Cut each block of tofu into 5 thick slices. Arrange them on a cutting board lined with a dish towel or paper towels. Cover with more towels and a baking sheet. Weight the sheet with heavy objects; hardcover cookbooks and cast-iron pans work really well. Let rest for at least 1 hour.

When ready to cook, preheat the over to 375°F. Combine the oils, soy sauce, sugar, and rice wine.

Cut each slice in half both vertically and horizontally, then arrange them in a 9 x 13″ metal baking pan (they don’t cook as well in glass), leaving a centimeter or so of space between each one if you can. Pour the sauce evenly over the tofu.

Cook for 45 minutes to 1 hour, until the tofu is very brown and the liquid is mostly absorbed. While it bakes, toast the sesame seeds in an un-oiled frying pan over medium heat until golden. Remove the pan from the oven and sprinkle with the toasted sesame seeds. Let the tofu rest for 15-20 minutes to allow the tofu to absorb the remaining liquid in the pan. When it’s cool enough to handle, stick the short end of each morsel with a toothpick. Arrange on a plate with the toothpicks sticking out. Garnish with cilantro or chopped scallions.

  • Jessie

    Oooh.. tofu with a soy glaze on a stick.. YUM!! I would never expect barbecue sauce to be the secret (Asian) ingredient.. but I guess, in the end, it is just tomato paste + sugar and spices (and delicious).

  • shayma

    indeed, mirin is a great pantry item. i love both appetisers, but love the tofu more- adore its marinade.

  • Ozoz

    Yummy looking. Love satay…

  • Unplanned Cooking

    I love reading your blog, not only because you're a good writer, but because it makes me feel as if I have way more of a social life than I do. I always think, at my next party, I could make these… :)

  • Pinkantlercakes

    How fun! I spent a summer in Asia, and these look like a pretty good American take on the chicken satay that had at our late night get togethers! Thanks!

  • Cabin Creek Farm ♥

    This sounds simple enough, will be trying them for sure. Thank you!!

  • Arianne

    Perhaps I’m revealing my ignorance, but 1/4 what of mirin? Teaspoon or cup?

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