Adam Liaw’s spicy Singaporean beef satay

Do your tastebuds have itchy feet? Take a tasty trip to Singapore with this classic dish by Adam Liaw.

Beef BBQ with sauce placed standing on a square plate
  • Justine Costigan
  • June 2018

When Adam Liaw makes satay, it’s always a special occasion. And not just because these spice-infused morsels of grilled meat are delicious, but because satay isn’t a dish you make for just one or two people. “I slice up and marinate all the meat and when I have enough agreeable family members to help, we make 200-300 satay in one go. It’s easy to do when you get a rhythm going,” says Adam.

This is a traditional Singaporean recipe, and Singapore has always had a special connection for Adam. Born in Malaysia to an English Singaporean mother and a Hainanese Chinese father, Singaporean food is “what I grew up eating” says the lawyer, MasterChef winner, TV presenter and cookbook author.

“Singaporean food is the sum of its parts – Chinese, Indian, Malay, the British colonial influence. It’s one of the world’s most exciting cuisines and no other city brings together so many influences. It punches well above its weight,” he says.

“There are a couple of dishes I have to eat when in Singapore, but I like to try new places to eat them,” he says. Among his favourites include Singapore’s national dish, Hainanese chicken rice, and Peranakan kuih (sweet snacks).

There’s a few tricks to getting this deceptively simple recipe right. “Don’t use meat that’s too lean or cut the meat too small,” says Adam. “And the meat needs to have a good flavour, it’s not just about the sauce.”

Large flame grill filled with BBQ
Barbecuing beef satay in Singapore

Adam Liaw’s Satay Daging (Beef satay) recipe

Ingredients (makes 50 skewers)

  • 1kg beef topside
  • 50 small bamboo skewers
  • 125ml (½ cup) peanut oil,
    for brushing
  • Cucumber and red onion pieces, to serve


  • 1 medium brown onion, coarsely chopped
  • 1 tsp ground fennel
  • 1 tsp ground turmeric
  • 4 tbsp sugar
  • 2 tbsp ground coriander
  • 1 tbsp ground cumin
  • 3 stalks lemongrass tender inner core only, finely sliced
  • 2 tbsp dark soy sauce
  • 4 tbsp peanut oil

Peanut sauce

  • 10 large dried chillies,
    de-seeded and soaked in
    hot water for 20 minutes
  • 2 medium brown onions,
  • 4 garlic cloves, peeled
  • 2 stalks lemongrass, tender inner core only, finely sliced
  • 1 tbsp belacan (shrimp paste)
  • 1 tsp ground coriander
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • 60ml (¼ cup) peanut oil
  • 300g roasted peanuts
  • 400ml coconut cream
  • 1 tbsp tamarind pulp
  • 125ml (½ cup) hot water
  • 2 tbsp sugar
  • 1 tsp salt


Place the meat in the refrigerator or freezer for 1 hour – this will make it easier to slice. Using a large, sharp knife, thinly slice the meat against the grain, then again into 5cm long pieces.

To make the marinade, place all the ingredients in a blender or food processor and process until smooth. Transfer to a bowl, add the beef, and stir to combine well. Cover and refrigerate for at least 3-4 hours or overnight, if time permits.

Meanwhile, to make the peanut sauce, place the chillies, onions, garlic, lemongrass, belacan, coriander and cumin in a blender and process until smooth. Heat the oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat and fry the paste, stirring occasionally, for about 10-15 minutes until very fragrant. Add the peanuts and coconut cream and bring to a simmer. Combine the tamarind pulp and hot water until smooth, then add to the sauce with the sugar and salt and simmer for another 5-10 minutes or until the sauce starts to form an oily gloss on the surface. Re-heat gently just before serving.

Soak the bamboo skewers in cold water for at least 1 hour before skewering. Thread one slice of beef onto each skewer, weaving it onto the skewer 2-3 times to hold it in place. You only want the meat to come about one-third of the way down the skewer. Use your hands to mold the skewer into a nice, firm shape.

Preheat a barbecue hot plate, grill pan or frying pan over high heat. Brush the skewers with oil, then cook, basting regularly with extra oil and turning regularly for about 5 minutes until cooked through. Serve immediately with the peanut sauce, and cucumber and red onion on the side.