How To Simplify Peanut Sauce Down To 3 Ingredients

Making peanut sauce, a staple Southeast Asian condiment, can stump home cooks, especially when they're crafting it for the first time. There are ingredient ratios to keep in mind, especially to balance flavors and achieve the right texture. You don't want it to be too runny or thick, but just right as a dipping sauce to coat your skewers and spring rolls. That said, we can easily simplify peanut sauce down to three core ingredients: peanut butter, a flavorful sauce, and an acid like vinegar or lime juice. Let's take Tasting Table recipe developer, Miriam Hahn's, spicy peanut sauce recipe as an example.

To make a basic three-ingredient spicy peanut sauce, start with peanut butter, which can be creamy or chunky. Then, dilute it with water until it reaches your desired thickness and consistency. Hahn adds about 1/2 cup of water to 1/4 cup of peanut butter. She then adds lemon juice as the acid. All of this can be done in a small saucepan on the stovetop over low heat. Season the sauce with some hoisin sauce or soy sauce, adjusted to your taste, and finally, mix in about 1 to 2 tablespoons of spicy heat, like sriracha, chili sauce, or chili crisp, depending on your palate.  

Once mixed thoroughly, your peanut sauce is ready. "This one is creamy and spicy and full of peanut butter flavor. Absolutely delicious," Hahn enthused. You can, of course, add more ingredients and complexity to this basic spicy peanut sauce if you so desire. Aromatics like minced garlic and ginger would bring other flavors to the sauce while flavored vinegars can balance it with additional acidity.

Putting flavorful twists on your simple peanut sauce

If spicy peanut sauce isn't the flavor combination you seek, consider different combos that emphasize sweet, savory, or tangy notes. For a sweeter peanut sauce, start with this basic foundation: peanut butter, vinegar, and water. Then, add a liquid sweetener such as maple syrup, honey, or sweetened condensed milk, beginning with 1 tablespoon and adjusting to taste. Next, incorporate 2 tablespoons of hoisin sauce for additional sweetness and a touch of umami. You can add a pinch of granulated sugar if the sauce isn't sweet enough for your palate. This sweeter three-ingredient peanut sauce can be enhanced with aromatics such as minced shallots, garlic, or onions. For added texture, include chopped peanuts. 

To accentuate savory notes in a simple peanut sauce, it's essential to add salt and consider savory ingredients like 1 teaspoon of miso, 1 tablespoon of soy sauce, or approximately 2 teaspoons of furu (Chinese fermented tofu). For a tangy yet simple peanut sauce, replace some water with fresh lemon or lime juice or a bit of white or apple cider vinegar. Feel free to experiment with various ingredients and flavor combinations. By simplifying peanut sauce to just three simple ingredients, we've unlocked the secret to crafting a versatile and customizable sauce that can complement any taste or dish, like a satay-style peanut sauce for some delicious Malaysian chicken skewers.