Thai restaurants are pretty much everywhere in Toronto now and they all have their own peanut sauce. Some of them are delicious. Some of them are not. In a few Western restaurants that serve satay the peanut sauce has been absolutely terrible and obviously made with generic peanut butter (and the satay itself was an extremely pale, no pun intended, imitation of the original). The difference in quality seems to be directly proportional to the amount of effort used to care for the ingredients. If you slap some peanut butter into a pot and stir in some spices, you will get exactly what you think you will get: melted spiced peanut butter. Cut that shit out. We can do better.
- 100g unsalted peanuts
- 2 cups or 1 can of coconut milk, unsweetened (preferably a high-cream content brand such as Aroy-D)
- 1 tbsp red curry paste (add a tsp or two more if you want it spicier)
- 1 tbsp sugar
- 1 1/2 tbsp lemon juice
- 1 1/2 tsp fish sauce
What you will need: small pot, wooden spoon, knife and chopping board or mini-processor, measuring cups and spoons, small frying pan or pot to roast peanuts
- Dry roast the peanuts: heat a small frying pan to medium-low heat and add whole peanuts. There’s no need to add any oil, even if the pan isn’t non-stick. The peanuts themselves contain oil and when heated, the oil will come to the surface. Stir the peanuts often to prevent one side burning. They’re done when the peanuts are shiny (from the oil) and dark brown roast marks appear on the edges.
- Process the peanuts into a fine meal: using a mini-processor, grind the nuts until there’s no more large pieces. If using a knife to chop the nuts, chop them as finely as you can.
- In the cooking pot, heat half of the coconut milk at medium-high heat (maybe 5-6 on the dial to get the milk hot) and add the red curry paste. Stir the paste with a spoon to dissolve it in the milk.
- Cook the milk and paste for 10 minutes or so, until the oil separates from the milk. You’ll see it on top of the liquid in large circles, or a thin layer of coconut oil.
- Add the peanut meal. Stir it up.
- Immediately add the rest of the coconut milk and bring to a boil.
- Lower the heat to medium (3-4 on the dial) and add the sugar, lemon juice and fish sauce.
- Let it cook, stirring every 5 minutes or so for about 15-20 minutes. The sauce will have thickened somewhat by then. Optionally, you could let it cook longer to make the sauce even thicker.
- Remove the pot from the heat and turn off the burner. Let the sauce sit for 30 minutes and then stir to blend in any oil that’s sitting on the top. It should be a thick, creamy consistency.
Peanut sauce is meant to be served warm to hot. I’ve been served cold peanut sauce before. It tastes okay, but hot is where it’s at. If you store this in the fridge, the coconut oil will turn back into a solid (useless trivia: coconut oil turns into a liquid above 24 C, so depending on the time of year, a jar of coconut oil will either be white and solid, or clear and liquid) You can reheat the sauce in a pot under low heat until it’s the desired temperature and the oils have regained their liquid properties.
Serve this with satay. Or just eat it with a spoon.