This Cambodian beef skewers recipe kicks off our series on the best Cambodian barbecue recipes. Called sach ko ang in Khmer, they are typically eaten with pickled vegetables and are a classic late afternoon or early evening snack in Cambodia. Some locals slide the meat off the skewer into the buttered baguette to make a meal out of them.
It was inevitable we’d start this series on the best Cambodian barbecue recipes with this Cambodian beef skewers recipe as these are one of our go-to street food snacks in Siem Reap. We discovered these on one of our first trips to Siem Reap when we were living in Bangkok. I think we smelt the smoky aromas first, then spotted the plumes of smoke, and let our noses lead the way… which is the way it goes with Cambodian barbecue.
But it wasn’t until moving to Cambodia when we were staying at Rambutan Resort in the Wat Damnak area that staff recommended we try the simple skewer joint at the end of their lane that we really fell for these mouthwatering marinated beef skewers called sach ko ang in Khmer. We loved them so much we wrote about them in a story for Travel+Leisure Southeast Asia and wrote about our favourite beef skewers in Battambang for a story for Delicious magazine.
Skewered barbecue meats are found right across Southeast Asia, but what makes these special is the Cambodian kroeung or herb and spice paste that they are marinated in. It’s distinctly Cambodian. They typically come with pickled vegetables and optional douse of chilli. Baguettes, a legacy of the French, will also be offered and are highly recommended.
To eat these skewers with a baguette, you place the skewer inside the baguette, hold onto the baguette tight, and pull the skewer out so the meat slides off. You can then add your pickled veg and chilli. You won’t find wine at a local Siem Reap street food joint, which is even more of a reason to make these lemongrass beef skewers at home and crack open a bottle of pinot noir, which we reckon is the perfect match. Now, before we tell you more about our Cambodian beef skewers recipe, we have a favour to ask.
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Cambodian Beef Skewers Recipe – How To Make Sach Ko Ang
Unless you are friends with one of the chefs running one of Siem Reap’s best Cambodian restaurants and who have access to good suppliers, the local Cambodian beef you find in the market or supermarket will probably be too tough for you. It also doesn’t have much fat, which is one of the reasons why local street food cooks use pork fat in these.
The reason is because most local beef comes from working animals who have spent their lives ploughing the fields until retirement. Because of this the meat can get dry very quickly when cooking. The genius of the addition of pork fat on the skewers means that the meat stays moist through the cooking process. The fat also tends to drip onto the charcoals and the smoke that rises from this also adds some extra smoky flavour to the beef skewers.
I include yellow kroeung in the list of ingredients, below. Kroeung means ‘paste’ in Khmer and it is a freshly pounded herb and spice paste in the same vein as the curry pastes you would use in Thai cooking. There are four main kroeungs and they all have different uses, from marinades to the bases of soup broths and curries. You’ll sometimes see these called lemongrass beef skewers and that’s because lemongrass is one of the key ingredients in the yellow kroeung. Click on the previous link for the recipe. You can pound the paste by hand in a mortar and pestle, which we prefer (they just taste better) or make it in the blender.
The pickled vegetables that are usually served on the side with these Cambodian barbecued beef skewers consist of carrots and daikon radish cut into thin strips and ‘quick pickled’ in water with salt and sugar and a touch of lime juice. You can eat them on the side or pop them in your baguette as you would salad ingredients on a Cambodian num pang (we have a recipe for a num pang barang here) or Vietnamese banh mi.
In Cambodia, these skewers are typically grilled over coals in a clay brazier, which is how I cook them, however, you can use your home barbecue or grill. We use Coconut Charcoal BBQ Briquettes for our little grill. They are great, long-burning briquettes that are made from coconut shells.
Another delicious take on Cambodian beef skewers is sach ko chror nouch in Khmer or spicy stuffed beef. In this recipe the beef is sliced thinly and marinated before being wrapped around a piece of pork fat and then placed on a skewer. We’ll be posting that one as part of this series.
Cambodian Beef Skewers Recipe
- 400 g sirloin steak
- 50 g pork fat fatty pork belly (rindless)
- 4 tbsp yellow kroeung
- 1 tbsp peanuts roasted, finely chopped, then pounded
- 2 tbsp palm sugar
- 4 tbsp fish sauce
- Soak the wooden skewers in water for one hour. This will prevent them from burning while barbecuing.
- Cut the beef into cubes of around 3cm.
- Cut the pork into thin squares around the same size as the beef cubes.
- Mix the palm sugar, fish sauce, kroeung and peanuts in a bowl and marinate the beef and pork for one hour. Now is a good time to heat your barbecue.
- Make the skewers by placing one piece of beef and then one slick of pork and repeat.
- Make sure the barbecue is at the white heat stage with no open flames.
- Place the skewers on the barbecue and cook until medium. Turn the skewers as each side of the meat is done. Brush the leftover marinade on the sticks. If this causes a little flare-up this is fine – it just adds to the smokiness of the skewers.
- Serve immediately with pickled vegetables.
Please do let us know if you make this Cambodian beef skewers recipe or any others in our best Cambodian barbecue recipes series. We’d love to get your feedback.