~ Thai-Style Spicy Peanut Sauce for Poultry or Pork ~
Oh my Thai. Oh my -- I love Thai food. When I get to craving it, unlike a lot of city dwellers, here in the mountains of Central Pennsylvania, running off to a Thai restaurant is not an option (for me). That's mostly because I spent a great deal of time, almost two years, learning to cook Thai. Happy Valley's Thai eateries: they're good, they're just not great. They leave me saying, "I could have done better at home", because I really can, and that takes the fun out of going out for me.
That period of time, under the tutelege of a Home Economist from Thailand who subsequently returned to her homeland, culinarily, was one of the remarkable experiences of my life. She and her husband were living here in Happy Valley while he was earning an engineering degree from Penn State. Kanya is a talented woman and was a wonderful teacher. What I liked best about her, besides her kind, generous, sharing nature was: her "no nonsense but common sense" "be realistic and practical" approach to teaching an American woman how to cook Thai.
For example: One minute I'd be standing around a granite kruk (a Thai mortar and pestle) hand pulverizing the ingredients to make a curry paste, and, the next minute I was learning how to save time and make the same in a food processor. There's more. Occasionally, we'd take a trip to the Asian market, where she would teach me what Thai pantry staple items to have on-hand to "short cut" the prep work, while still turning out a tongue-tingling product. With Kanya, the end always justified the means without compromise -- my kinda gal!
One of my first lessons was about peanuts and peanut sauce. It was also one of my favorites because it was a great way to introduce some of the flavors of Thailand to my three elementary-school-aged boys. They loved dipping carrot and celery sticks into smooth and coconut-creamy peanut sauce, they adored grilled pork and chicken satay drizzled with a chunkier and thicker peanut satay sauce, and, they went went nuts for peanut-sauce-dressed noodle dishes.
A bit about peanut sauce: This sauce is widely used in the cuisines of Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam, China and Africa. The main ingredients are roasted peanuts or peanut butter (crunchy or smooth), coconut milk, soy sauce and palm sugar. Pulverized spices (red chile peppers, coriander, cumin, garlic, galangal and /or lemongrass, are almost always added. You can easily purchase your favorite brand, but, when you see how easy this is to make, I don't know why you would. My recipe, which came from my Thai girlfriend Kanya, contains one small can of Thai-style red curry paste, which provides all of the above named pulverized spices.
2 tablespoons sesame oil
1 4-ounce can Thai-style red curry paste*
1 13 1/2-ounce can unsweetened coconut milk (briefly stir after opening the can)
6 tablespoons smooth or chunky-style peanut butter
2 tablespoons firmly-packed palm sugar** (light or dark brown sugar may be substituted
*A bit about Thai red curry paste: Thai cooking is about balancing hot, sour, sweet and salty and Thai curry paste (green, red and yellow), depending upon the dish being prepared, is made fresh in the Thai home kitchen. Red curry is a spicy blend of pulverized red chiles, garlic, shallots, galangal root and shrimp paste, and, the proportions are adjusted to suit each family's taste. Here in my American kitchen, store-bought Thai curry pastes are a great time-saving pantry staple.
**A bit about palm sugar: Made from the sap of the coconut or sugar palm, it varies from light to dark brown and resembles light and dark brown sugars, with its texture being slightly softer (it's finer grained). It is used to balance many Thai dishes with a distinct, sharp sweetness. For example: It is the sweet ingredient in the famous and very popular sweet and sour tom yam soup. Once opened, I keep mine stored in the refrigerator, where it will get quite hard, so remove it an hour or two prior to using. If you have a hard time finding it, or if you don't cook enough of Thai food to make this modest investment, brown sugar is an fine substitute.
~Step 1. Place the sesame oil and the red curry paste in a small 1-quart saucepan and bring to a simmer over medium heat. Continue to cook, stirring almost constantly, until the curry paste is bubbling rapidly and is very fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the coconut milk, peanut butter and sugar. Continue to simmer steadily but gently, stirring almost constantly, until smooth and thickened, about 2 1/2-3 minutes.
Remove from heat, cover, and set aside, to cool slightly, about 15-20 minutes. Serve slightly warm, or, place in a food storage container (or two) and cool, uncovered, until sauce is at room temperature.
Store indefinitely in the refrigerator and reheat gently in the microwave, stirring occasionally prior to serving.
The peanut sauce is made -- time for me to go on a Thai-rade!!!
Special Equipment List: 1-quart saucepan; spoon; food storage container(s) w/tight-fitting lid(s)
"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti
(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2016)