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Liven up your holiday buffet with this easy Asian appetizerPublished November 14, 2013 at 12:00 a.m.
More and more, the world of dining is going global. In my own flagship restaurant, Spago, for example, you’ll find dishes inspired by the kitchens of France, Italy, Japan, China, India, America and my own native Austria, among other places.
So why, I sometimes wonder, do home cooks so often stick to one cuisine when they entertain? They’ll offer their guests an Italian-themed menu, or they’ll cook up some all-American favorites, or they’ll announce they’re “doing Chinese” for a particular evening.
That approach surprises me, for two main reasons. First, offering a variety of cuisines can delight your guests, a phenomenon I see every day in my restaurants, as people not only get excited by the range of options available but also often turn a meal into an edible world tour. Second, a global approach also expands your options as a cook, giving you even more opportunities to be creative when composing a meal.
Such flexibility comes into play even more as you start planning parties for the quickly approaching holiday season, especially casual gatherings featuring hors d’oeuvres or buffet-style food. Sure, it helps to fall back on some old standbys — the cheese platter with artisanal breads and crackers, the crudites platter with assorted dips, the deviled eggs, the cocktail meatballs kept warm in a chafing dish or slow cooker.
But why not add a few original twists from around the world? They don’t have to be difficult. You could have some pre-assembled pizzas ready to pop onto a hot pizza stone in the oven, which bake up in a matter of minutes and can be cut into small, easy-to-pass-around slices or squares. Or maybe serve some simple Chinese dumplings — pot stickers made from wonton wrappers filled with seasoned minced pork or chicken, or steamed shrimp in rice-noodle wrappers — served with a dip of soy sauce, rice vinegar and ginger.
One my favorite offerings at such parties, though, is satay, the slender skewers of marinated meat, poultry or seafood popular in Southeast Asia. They’re very easy to assemble on bamboo or wooden skewers, cook quickly and are great fun for guests to eat. If you have an electric countertop grill or griddle, you could even put it somewhere safe and secure on the buffet table and let guests cook their own or pick them up freshly cooked, since the skewers need less than a minute per side.
The recipe I share here for beef satay with a Szechuan-inspired dipping sauce is incredibly simple yet delivers big flavor. You can use it with pork, lamb, chicken or turkey, too, and multiply or divide the quantities to suit the size of your party. I hope it will help you expand your horizons and go global during this holiday season.
BEEF SATAY WITH SPICY SZECHUAN SAUCE
Makes 24 skewers
3/4 pound New York strip steak or fillet
1/2 cup soy sauce
1 tablespoon honey
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
SPICY SZECHUAN SAUCE
6 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 garlic cloves, blanched for 30 seconds in boiling water, drained, chilled in ice water and minced
1 organic green onion, finely chopped
1/4 cup bottled hoisin sauce
1/4 cup soy sauce
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
Put 2 dozen bamboo or wooden skewers in a shallow baking dish wide enough to hold them flat. Add cold water to cover, put the dish in the refrigerator, and chill for 1 hour.
Cut the steak into 24 long equal strips, each weighing about 1/2 ounce. Drain the skewers and wipe the baking dish dry. Pass each skewer back and forth through a strip of steak all along its length. Arrange the skewers on a platter or baking pan. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until needed.
About half an hour before serving time, prepare the marinade: In a small bowl, stir together the soy sauce, honey, pepper flakes, cumin and turmeric. Remove the skewers from the refrigerator, uncover them, and pour the marinade over the meat, turning the skewers to coat the meat evenly. Leave at room temperature to marinate for about 15 minutes.
Meanwhile, preheat an indoor countertop electric grill, a stovetop grill pan or the broiler.
While the grill or broiler is heating, prepare the sauce: In a small skillet, melt 2 tablespoons of the butter over medium heat. Add the garlic and green onion and saute, stirring frequently, until soft, about 2 minutes. Pour in the hoisin sauce and the soy sauce, add the pepper flakes and cook 1 to 2 minutes longer. Strain into a clean pan and whisk in the remaining butter. Cover and keep warm.
Just before serving, arrange the skewers on the grill or under the broiler. Cook until medium rare, 30 to 40 seconds per side.
Pour the sauce into a small bowl and set in the center of a large serving platter. Arrange the skewers around the bowl and serve immediately.