Photo: Allie Chanthorn Reinmann
When I was a kid, my mom would occasionally make chicken satay. This herby, nutty, spiced “chicken on a stick” was a favorite of mine and my brothers. Sadly, satay was only for special occasions, and, being the youngest, I still harbor a suspicion that I didn’t get as many as they did. These days, I can make it for myself. I take a cue from the usual satay chicken, but I switch it up by using other bolder, spicier Thai curry pastes, without breaking out the mortar and pestle. If you like a bit of heat, using pre-made Thai curry paste is the snappiest way to add a massive amount of flavor to your next chicken skewers.
There are a variety of Thai curry pastes but, generally, they consist of ground up chiles, lemongrass, makrut lime leaf, shallots, garlic, salt, and an array of other aromatics, spices or shrimp paste on-deck, depending on the dish being made. This paste can be mixed with coconut milk to make a looser curry for meats and vegetables. The aroma is spicy and herbaceous, and the flavor is that times ten. The curries that include coconut milk have an appealing richness that cuts through the spice with welcome creaminess.
The preparation of the curry paste ingredients is usually where people pause. To make it traditionally, you would grind up the ingredients by hand with a large mortar and pestle until you achieve a fine paste. It’s definitely a process. Some folks use a blender or a food processor, which works, but you might hear an opinion or two out there claiming that it’s not the same. Those voices might also have an opinion about what I’m going to tell you.
There are a lot of great prepared Thai curries readily available that even us Thai folks use when we want to skip the upper body workout, and you can totally use a pre-packaged curry for these chicken sticks. The following chicken skewers are meant to be quick appetizers, or an easy, hand-held side dish for your cookout.
We use Maesri cans for Thai curry in my home, but you can certainly try other brands that are available, like Mae Ploy. Most supermarkets keep them in the “international” aisle, and you can also find them at Asian markets. Keep in mind the spice factor ranges widely. They all have chiles in them, but not all chiles are packin’ the same heat. For a more mild spice, try masaman or red curry (this is what’s used in the photo). If you enjoy breaking a sweat, try gaeng prik khing or green curry paste. If you really enjoy unadulterated spice, omit the coconut milk from the recipe below. Just rub the curry paste straight onto the chicken and keep it on as a deliciously fierce coating.
To prepare these skewers, use raw chicken tenders sliced in half lengthwise. You get a better chicken to spice ratio, and they cook twice as fast. Marinate them in the curry sauce for about an hour, or overnight in the fridge (well covered because the fragrance is strong) before you weave them onto skewers. I made these in the oven but I’m certain they would be deliriously good cooked on the grill. Feel free to use this Thai curry rub on chicken legs or thighs, too.
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Easy Thai Chicken Skewers
Ingredients:1 pound of raw chicken tenders (sliced in half lengthwise)1-4 ounce can of Thai curry paste (any flavor)½ can (7 ounces) of coconut milk (room temperature)
Shake the can of coconut milk vigorously before opening. This will help combine the fat and water. Combine the coconut milk and the curry paste in a medium sized bowl or a large measuring cup. Place the sliced chicken tenders into the curry mixture and give them a good stir to ensure coating and separate any pieces that are stuck together. Cover and let marinate in the fridge for an hour or overnight. Mix occasionally.
Marinated, red curry chicken awaiting oven.Photo: Allie Chanthorn Reinmann
Line a sheet tray with parchment or foil, and lightly coat with oil. While the grill or oven is preheating, thread the chicken onto skewers and place on the sheet tray. Any leftover curry sauce can get daubed onto the prepared chicken before they hit the heat.
Bake in a 400°F oven for 30 minutes or cook on the grill for about 10 minutes. Enjoy right off the stick or over a mound of steamed rice.