Nut-free chicken satay
Our nut-free chicken satay recipe tastes great at a summer barbecue – but also works well grilled during the winter months.
I love chicken satay, and associate it with the start of my former corporate career. As a graduate trainee in international banking, I spent months training in Singapore – and each night my colleagues and I would venture out to eat. We frequently ate in one of the many food markets – cheap, great quality, freshly cooked food where everyone could choose from different stalls and eat together at the basic plastic tables.
Singapore’s Satay Club was my favourite – sadly it exists no more but it set the bar for my expectations of satay. A quick web search of ‘satay’ brings up many different recipes; jars or packets of satay sauces in the supermarkets also contain vastly different ingredients. It seems there is no ‘one’ recipe for satay.
So this homemade satay marinade is just one version – but along the lines of the Satay Club recipe. It’s not exactly the same (I can’t access whole tamarind pulp for instance!) and it is lower sugar. There’s so much evidence that adding sugar to barbecued or grilled meats really cranks up AGEs (Advanced Glycation End Products – that contribute to Diabetes, heart disease, ageing and DNA damage) as well as HCAs and PAHs – nasty compounds that are carcinogenic.
Chicken with skin, in barbecue sauce (i.e. sugar!) has pretty much the highest level of AGEs of all barbecued meat. So there’s a token amount of sugar in the recipe, but not much at all – unlike commercial sauces that normally have sugar listed within the first couple of ingredients.
A traditional satay dipping sauce usually accompanies the marinated kebabs. This is normally based around peanut butter (so if you don’t need to be nut-free, it’s fine to use that instead) but our version uses sunflower seed butter, mainly because I needed a nut-free recipe so that we could sell the kebabs at my son’s school fair!
Sunflower seed butter is ultra-simple to make – and the leftover butter can be used as a spread, or even converted to chocolate butter by adding a little cacao powder and maple syrup (see our chocolate nut butter recipe). Sunflower seeds are a great way to bump your vitamin E content up – they’re the highest seed source of vitamin E, and also contain phytosterols, which help to lower cholesterol levels. We think that makes sunflower seed butter a pretty good alternative to peanut butter.
We’ve used chicken thighs for the kebabs here as they’re more flavourful, cheaper and quite frankly higher in nutrients than the breast meat. Use organic thighs if you can find them – to skip unnecessary growth hormones and antibiotic residues found in conventional chicken.
Cutting the thighs into small cubes – no more than an inch thick helps to keep the cooking time short. Barbecuing is really not the healthiest way of cooking (see our healthy barbecue article) but let’s face it, most of us are going to have at least a few barbecues over the summer, so knowing a few sneaky cheats to make barbecuing healthier is important. Keeping the cooking time short (and flipping the meat) is important. The spices and marinating sauce in this case don’t just add flavour – they serve as another protective mechanism to help lower the levels of potential carcinogenic chemicals.
An important ingredient in this recipe is tamarind – which gives a tangy lemony flavour to recipes. You can get it in a small jar in most supermarkets in the UK, and as a whole fruit, it has a really long history of medicinal use, including digestive support and as a potential anti-diabetic agent.
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