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If you were to conduct a poll in the United States that asked people what comes to mind when they hear the words "Thai grilled skewers," I would wager that over 97 percent of folks would answer, "chicken satay." People love chicken satay, and I don't have any bones to pick with their skewer choices. I would also venture a guess that the absence of bone-picking is part of what appeals to a dining public that willed the "boneless chicken wing" into marketing existence. Satay can be great, but there are plenty of other Thai options in the grilled meat-on-a-stick extended universe. One of my favorites is moo ping—grilled pork skewers.
These skewers are made with thinly sliced pork shoulder that gets tossed in a punchy savory-sweet marinade, which balances the saltiness of Thai fish sauce, soy sauce, and oyster sauce with the roasty sweetness of palm sugar. Garlic and white pepper provide plenty of bite. Traditionally, the garlic is pounded to a paste in a mortar and pestle with cilantro root, but to make this dish more accessible, I simply mince the garlic cloves and substitute minced tender cilantro stems in place of the harder-to-find cilantro root. An optional, but highly recommended, pinch of MSG powder (a common ingredient used by Thai street food vendors) gives the marinade a final savory boost.
As with my al pastor skewers, I thinly slice pork butt into strips that are sized for skewering. After marinating for a few hours, the pork pieces get threaded onto skewers, bunched tightly together to prevent the skewer from burning and breaking during cooking; the only parts of the skewers that should be exposed are a two-inch handle at the bottom, and just the very tip at the top.
Once the skewers are assembled, it's time to rig up your grill for skewer-cookery. The pork can be grilled directly over the coals, or on top of a wire rack balanced on the bricks.
As the pork cooks, I brush the skewers with unsweetened coconut cream, which forms a sticky, shiny glaze on the meat while also keeping the pork moist as it grills. The skewers need to be turned and brushed continuously in order for the meat to cook evenly, and to manage any flare-ups caused by dripping pork fat.
Once the meat is lightly charred and cooked through, take the skewers off the grill and let them rest for a couple of minutes before you dig in. The skewers are great as-is, but you can jazz them up with a squeeze of fresh lime, or, if you're feeling industrious, a batch of dried chili-vinegar dipping sauce for dunking. Nobody will be missing sad takeout satay.
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