Lemongrass is a type of grass that tastes lemony. That much is simple.
Using this staple of Thai and Vietnamese cooking can be a bit harder.
Half of the lemongrass stalk is inedible. Treat it rather like a miniature leek, cutting the stalk where leaves start branching out, and discarding the tops. Pull off the outer layer if it's dry and papery.
Then, for best flavor, it should be finely minced with a sharp knife, possibly aided by a food processor or mortar and pestle.
Its flavor, with pungent citrus and herbal notes, makes the work worth the labor. Cooks use it to flavor broths, marinades for meat and stir-fry sauces.
Skip the store: Lemongrass lovers can clip the tops of fresh stalks, start them rooting in water and then grow them in a large flowerpot. If it gets plenty of sun and avoids cold, it can be grown inside with southern exposure. The plant gradually grows new stalks and can be harvested periodically.
Here, lemongrass adds its aroma to chicken satay with peanut sauce. Pound the stalk with the flat of a knife before mincing to help release essential oils.
Chicken Satay with Peanut Sauce
1 1/2 pounds chicken tenders
1 tablespoon finely minced lemongrass
2 tablespoons sesame oil
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 tablespoons dry sherry
6 tablespoons soy sauce
3 tablespoons lime or lemon juice, preferably fresh
1 tablespoon white or cider vinegar
3 tablespoons minced garlic
1 1/2 teaspoon powdered coriander
1/2 teaspoon powdered ginger
1/3 cup peanut butter
2 tablespoons ketchup
1/4 cup minced onion
1 tablespoon sugar, preferably brown
In large bowl, whisk together 1 tablespoon sesame oil, 2 tablespoons vegetable oil, 4 tablespoons soy sauce, sherry, lemongrass, 1 teaspoon coriander, ginger, 2 tablespoons lime or lemon juice, and 2 tablespoons garlic. Add chicken tenders and stir to coat. Refrigerate, covered, for at least 30 minutes, or overnight for better flavor.
When ready to cook, heat grill and make peanut sauce.
Put 1 tablespoon vegetable oil and 1 teaspoon sesame oil in a small pot over medium heat. Add onion and 1 tablespoon garlic, and cook until soft, 3 to 5 minutes. Add 2 tablespoons soy sauce, peanut butter, 1/2 teaspoon coriander, sugar, vinegar, 1 tablespoon lime or lemon juice, ketchup, and whisk to combine.
When it starts to simmer, whisk again and remove from heat.
Thread chicken tenders onto skewers. Grill over hot fire until done, turning once, about 3 minutes per side. Serve alongside peanut sauce.