The Booze Hound is a dipper. Not a double-dipper (you can still invite him to parties with crudite platters), just a really, really big fan of dipping foods into other foods. He’s happy enough dipping vegetables, but dipping meat makes his heart go pitter-patter. When the meat is being dipped in some sort of bleu cheese concoction, well… imagine a lion eating a wildebeest. You get the idea.
Now peanut sauce, that’s my jam. It’s sweet, savory, thick and it goes with food I love, like summer rolls, Asian-inspired salads, grilled meat, etc. Until recently I made mine with peanut butter, knowing it wasn’t really authentic–think of all the Indonesian women NOT reaching into their cabinets to open up a jar of Jif for their satay– but it was delicious, and I figured it would be my one slip-up in trying to cook as authentically as possible. (Meatball subs are 1000% Italian, and Kung Pao Chicken is 1000% Chinese, right?)
Then I found a new peanut sauce recipe in the hallowed pages of my latest Fine Cooking. It involved not peanut butter, but ground peanuts cooked and cooked and cooked down with red curry paste, coconut milk, and all kinds of other goodies until it becomes a gloriously thick, rich mess.
Oh hells yes, this was good stuff. If smelling ground peanuts browning with red curry paste weren’t enough to put a smile on my face, I got to visit the pot all afternoon (ok, only for an hour, but whatevs), stir it occasionally, watch it slowly thicken, and get the personal satisfaction of cooking something low-and-slow, which is how I feel all authentic dishes come together. You don’t see any Nonnas putting together a 30-minute gravy, and when they see someone trying, they degrade that person in Italian while shaking a wooden spoon.
So… how does this authentic peanut sauce compare to its peanut butter-based cousins? The flavors are deeper and more complex, it’s not as sweet, and you have delightful little bits of peanuts in every bite. The cooking time is longer, but it’s all inactive time while the sauce simmers and becomes some kind of wonderful on the stove. The only advantage I give my ol’ reliable peanut butter-based peanut sauce (which will appear in a future post, promise!) is that it’s a better marinade because it involves soy sauce. I tried marinating pork skewers in this sauce, with reserved sauce for dipping, and the flavors didn’t penetrate the meat quite as much as my other one. But as far as which one it better as a sauce for dipping or stirring into cold noodles, this one wins and always will.
Far be it from me to be a Jif hater, but just like making apple pie with fresh apples, making peanut sauce made with freshly-ground peanuts is the way to go. Authenticity always wins… unless we’re talking about politics, in which case authenticity loses. But I guarantee we’d get a bipartisan agreement that this sauce reigns supreme, in addition to a nod from every street vendor in Thailand, where you know they serve the Real McCoy. It’s just… so… good.
- 1 T canola or peanut oil
- 1 T Thai red curry paste
- ½ c unsalted peanuts, finely ground in a food processor
- 2 T packed palm sugar or light brown sugar
- 1½ c unsweetened coconut milk
- 1½ c low-sodium chicken broth
- 3 T lime juice
- 2 T hoisin sauce
- 2 T fish sauce
- 8 fresh Thai basil leaves, minced (optional)
- Heat the oil in a 3-quart saucepan over medium heat. Add the curry paste and cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the peanuts and cook, stirring, until a shade darker, 1-2 minutes. Add the sugar and continue to cook, stirring, until melted and lightly caramelized, about 2 minutes. Add the coconut milk, broth, lime juice, hoisin, and fish sauce, whisking until smooth, and bring to a simmer. Cook, stirring occasionally, until thickened and reduce to about 1½ cups, about 45-60 minutes (it took me 60 minutes).
- Remove pot from heat and stir in the basil, if using (I didn't use it, but I bet it would be great). Cool the sauce to room temperature. (You can make the sauce up to 1 day ahead and refrigerate in an airtight container. Serve at room temperature.)