Karl’s Chicken Satay Lettuce Wraps with Peanut Sauce

This week’s dinner is being a bit of a challenge. Daughter Miriam has been sick and she is off all onions, garlic, and heavily spiced foods. Other diners are off, or limiting, starches. Leafy greens have also been requested, but I am getting tired of “just another green salad.”

Karl’s Chicken Satay Lettuce Wraps with Peanut Sauce

Karl’s Chicken Satay Lettuce Wraps
with Peanut Sauce

I searched for “main dish” and looked at the pictures and names of hundreds of dishes—looking for inspiration. I thought about chicken and wild rice stuffed bell peppers—no go, because peppers are also on the do not eat list. Cabbage rolls were my next idea—while these were OK with Miriam, they are not popular with wife Jan.

Last week, I discovered a technique of searing a spiced patty of chopped up chicken that produced a good flavor. I then added a curry sauce that enhanced the cooked chicken. I decided that what I wanted to do was a chopped chicken satay with a flavorful sauce that could be spooned into lettuce cups—providing the leafy greens. This should please everyone’s culinary desires.

Note: Satay is the modern Indonesian spelling of sate, the original spelling that you will sometimes see.

To be a satay, the marinade should include turmeric to give it a yellow color. After that, it is just about anything goes. Wikipedia lists 37 variations of just Indonesian satays, with each region having its own preferred meats, marinades and dipping sauces.

This is definitely a California fusion recipe. While I looked at several recipes, I did my usual take ingredient from recipe A and ingredient from recipe B, to come up with something I thought would taste good.

Note: For the starch eaters I decided that a coconut rice would go well, and as a hot vegetable I decided to sauté some snow peas and red radishes.

Karl's No Onion, No Garlic, South Asian Meal

Karl’s No Onion, No Garlic, South Asian Meal

Karl’s Chicken Satay Lettuce Wraps


2 lb. chicken thighs
1 head butter lettuce

Dry satay spice rub

2 tsp. coriander seeds, ground
2 tsp. cumin seeds, ground
2 tsp. turmeric
1 tsp. Kosher salt
½ tsp. black pepper
1 ½ Tbs. peanut oil

Satay sauce

1 Tbs. lime juice
2 tsp. tamarind paste
2 tsp. sugar (palm sugar, if you have it)
¼ cup coconut milk

½ tsp. corn starch mix into 1 Tbs. cold water (optional)

Peanut sauce

4 Tbs. creamy peanut butter
1 Tbs. fish sauce
1 Tbs. hoisin sauce
1 Tbs. light soy sauce
1 Tbs. lime juice
1± tsp. sriracha, to taste
1 tsp. sugar (palm sugar if you have it)
½ tsp. dark sesame oil
½+ cup hot water

1 cup cilantro leaves


1. Partially freeze the chicken, about 30 minutes,

Tip: Half freezing the chicken make the meat firm enough to slice easily.

2. Separate and rinse the lettuce leaves and set them aside to dry.

Tip: Cut the very large outer leaves in half down the middle rib.

3. Put all of the dry rub ingredients into a spice grinder and process them into a fine powder.

4. Slice the chicken into ⅜ x 1 inch pieces.

Tip: You want them not to big, but not too small.

5. Put the chicken in a mixing bowl and sprinkle the dry spices over the meat.

Tip: Mix well to coat each piece of meat with the spices.

6. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes to marinate.

7. Whisk the wet sauce ingredients in a small cup and set them aside.

8. Put the oil in a sauté pan over a medium high heat.

9. Form the cold chicken into one large patty.

Tip: It is important that the cold chicken be dry, so that it will not fall apart—too much—as you are frying it.

Note: The idea here is to brown the outside of the patty—to get the flavor from the Maillard reaction—while still keeping the inner bits of chicken tender.

10. Fry the chicken patty for 8-10 minutes—undisturbed—on the first side, until well browned.

11. Flip the patty over and continue frying for another 7-8 minutes, until browned.

Tip: The patty may split in half—or so bits may break off—as you flip the patty. Don’t stress.

12. Remove the patty to a plate to cool.

13. Remove the pan from the heat and add the wet sauce ingredients to the pan to deglaze any browned bits stuck to the pan.

Tip: You may put this dish on hold at this point for 10-20 minutes.

14. Place all of the peanut sauce ingredients in a small pot and whisk them together.

Tip: I have tried to stop right here, but the peanut butter does not dissolve enough and leaves you with a lumpy dressing.

Note: Miriam is off spicy foods at the moment so I am leaving out the sriracha—I will be serving it on the side. Feel free to increase the amount of sriracha to your preferred heat level.

15. Warm the pot over a very low heat, whisking frequently, until the dressing is smooth.

Note: As the peanut butter is heated it will both break down and start to absorb the water. Over time the dressing will thicken substantially. You may need to add more water to get the consistency you desire.

16. Just before serving, break the chicken patty apart.

Tip: Using a pair of forks for this keeps your hands clean and un-burned.

17. Reheat the sauce and simmer until it starts to thicken slightly, about 5 minutes.

Tip: If necessary add some of the cornstarch mixture to thicken the sauce.

18. Add the chicken to the sauce and toss to coat and reheat the chicken.

19. Serve the chicken with the lettuce, peanut sauce, and cilantro on the side.

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Filed under California Fusion, Chicken, Main Dishes, Sauces and Spices

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