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Peanut sauce

Peanut sauce is the best. A southeast Asian staple, it works as a dip for satays and other kinds of finger-food. But it is also frequently used as a sauce for stir-fries — especially vegetable-heavy ones.

It may surprise you to learn that nearly all peanut sauce recipes use peanut butter as the core ingredient, rather than trying to use peanuts themselves as a starting point. In fact, peanut butter is almost the only ingredient universally agreed upon for making peanut sauce. For that matter, recipes don’t even agree as to whether peanut sauce needs to be cooked.

Below is a recipe for a basic peanut sauce; it has a pretty short list of ingredients, and is mostly peanut butter and coconut milk with a handful of flavor agents added for depth and complexity. It makes a great foundation for experimenting and customizing the sauce to your own liking.

Makes about 2 cups of sauce. Preparation time: 10-15 minutes.

Ingredients

  • 1 1/4 cup coconut milk (full-fat or “light” work)
  • 1/2 cup peanut butter (creamy or chunky, depending on your preference)
  • 1/2 cup grated white onion
  • 2 tsp. brown sugar
  • 1/2 tsp. chili powder or Asian chili paste
  • 1 tbsp. soy sauce
  • 1 tsp. rice wine vinegar
  • Kosher salt to taste

Combine all of the ingredients in a small saucepan. Heat over medium heat , stirring frequently, until it just comes to a boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer for 2-3 minutes, continuing to stir frequently. The peanut butter will melt and combine with the coconut milk as it heats. By the time it reaches a boil it will be a smooth, consistent texture (unless you’re using chunky peanut butter, in which case it will still have pieces of peanut).

Season to taste. Remove from heat. Can be used immediately.

Tips and suggestions:

  • There is no end to the ingredients you can try adding to this basic peanut sauce, including curry powder, red curry paste, sesame oil, minced garlic, ginger root, fish sauce, hot pepper sauce or ground cayenne pepper, and red wine vinegar. You can also try substituting for the original ingredients. Start small and iterate.
  • Recipes are split as to whether creamy or crunchy peanut butter is better. Your choice.
  • If you’re using it for a stir-fry, you might want to stick with fairly bland proteins such as chicken and tofu — otherwise you might have flavors competing with each other. Peanut sauce is thick and sticks to everything, so it can work with pretty much any vegetables.

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