Easy Thai Peanut Sauce with Authentic Flavor
This easy recipe for Thai Peanut Sauce has fabulous authentic flavor thanks to a jar of red curry paste! This is the BEST recipe I have ever tried. Peanut butter and coconut milk combined with lime juice, garlic, vinegar, and subtle Thai spices (from the curry paste) come together to make the most amazing dipping sauce. Chicken Satay and Peanut Sauce can be made as an appetizer, or served as a main dish with this Thai Cucumber Salad!
Every year on Christmas Eve, my big ol family gets together and makes a ton of food. But not just any food: we pick a country and make their traditional cuisine, trying to be as authentic as possible. We basically spend all day in the kitchen. In the past we’ve done Germany, the Philippines, India, Italy, Spain, France, and Brazil. This year we decided to make food from Thailand and it was LIFE CHANGING. I have been to plenty of Thai restaurants but am ashamed to say I usually get curry of some sort. A foolish and amateur choice, apparently.
Thai food (not just the curry) is AMAZING. It is now my mission in life to make it to Bangkok, just for the food alone. We made Pad Thai (garnished with authentic banana leaves), Drunken Noodles, Pineapple Fried Rice, Tom Kha Gai Soup, and Chicken Satay with Peanut Sauce.
It was probably one of the best meals of my life. Every dish was incredible. But I couldn’t stop going back to the Chicken Satay and Peanut Sauce. The fatty, greasy, oh-so-satisfying chicken (recipe coming asap) dipped in dreamy creamy Peanut Sauce. It is sweet and savory all at once, and absolutely addictive!
The thing is, when you are making a recipe for about 30 people (that’s my parents, their 5 children, and all the grandkids put together), you kind of have to guess on how many times to multiply a recipe. Should we triple the pad Thai, or quadruple it? Quintuple the Pineapple Fried Rice, or sextuple it? (How many times in your life do you get to sextuple something, anyway? I feel like there’s a joke in here somewhere but we’re just going to let that rest.)
We ended up with an entire platter of chicken satay and a literal VAT of peanut sauce. The chicken was gone soon enough, but there was tons of leftover peanut sauce.
Over the next few days, we all realized that you can put this stuff on A.N.Y.T.H.I.N.G and it will only make your food taste more amazing. Use it as a salad dressing. Toss it on chicken, steak, salmon. Dip your sliced apple in it. You cannot fail here.
Is peanut satay sauce spicy?
Not really! It is quite sweet actually, with a full and robust peanut flavor. It is gently spiced with garlic, shallot, lemongrass, galangal (similar to ginger but more mild), kaffir lime, and chili peppers. It has a little bit of a spicy kick to it from the chili, but is not intended to be a spicy condiment. The peanut butter and coconut milk are so creamy and fatty that it neutralizes some of the chili involved. Even though the sauce is on the sweeter side, it definitely has enough umami notes (or “savory-ness”) to make it the right choice for main dishes like chicken satay, or as the sauce for a pizza, or even paired with a nice big salad.
Shortcut to Thai flavors
This is not authentic Thai peanut sauce like they make in Bangkok. The ingredient list would be a mile long, and you wouldn’t even be able to find them if you didn’t have access to a decent Asian market. Instead of hunting down all the traditional Thai ingredients, we are taking a shortcut and using Thai red chili paste. It is made with all the same things I mentioned earlier that are typically found in peanut sauce: garlic, shallot, lemongrass, galangal, kaffir lime, chili. It is the perfect, easy way to bring all those flavors into your sauce without it becoming a really labor intensive recipe.
For my family’s big Thai meal, we used real lemongrass in a few recipes and ended up busting out a hammer to smash it. It’s supposed to be crushed, and lemongrass is really tough! Thai cooking is no joke!
Plus, to get this peanut sauce authentic, you would have to grind your own peanuts. Eep. No thanks. Using natural peanut butter, the kind that is just ground peanuts and nothing else, is a great substitute. My recipe actually calls for regular Jif peanut butter because I like a smoother texture. That’s just my preference; it’s not how Thai peanut sauce is made authentically. The real stuff is much less smooth, and a little more chunky (because of the ground peanuts!) See notes for details about how to use natural peanut butter!
I adapted this recipe from Leela Punyaratabandhu’s peanut sauce, found on her blog She Simmers. Leela is a fabulous cook and an engaging writer! I really enjoy her blog. Definitely check it out if you are interested in authentic Thai cooking. Leela also has several cookbooks; I really want to get this one called Flavors of the Southeast Asian Grill. It looks SO good. Thank you, Leela, for sharing all your amazing recipes with the world!
How to make Thai Peanut Sauce
I will show you just how to make it, with the adjustments that I find easiest for the American kitchen, while still holding onto that subtle and authentic flavor.
It only takes about 10 minutes and a pot on the stove. Many other peanut sauce recipes you will find online from Americans are uncooked, and I actually tried it both ways. I much prefer cooking the sauce, even just a couple minutes bubbling on the stove brings the flavors together and changes the texture to be just right.
Add the coconut milk, peanut butter, curry paste, sugar, garlic, lime, vinegar, and salt to a pot and set it on the stove over medium heat. Whisk it together, making sure all the peanut butter is broken up and incorporated. Once the mixture reaches a simmer, bring the heat down to low and simmer for just a couple minutes.
That’s IT! Take it off the heat and give it a taste. Add in more salt to taste, or an extra squeeze of lime or dash of apple cider vinegar if you like a little more bite. Sprinkle in a few more red pepper flakes if you want an extra kick. This sauce is typically served room temperature, so let it cool down and you are good to go.
This recipe includes water as an optional ingredient. I left it out entirely, because I prefer a very thick sauce. But you can add up to a half cup water while you are simmering on the stove if you want it to be more “drizzle-able.” When you refrigerate the leftovers, it will harden and solidify. Just heat it up again and thin it out with water, a few tablespoons at a time until it is the consistency you like. Another tip from Leela is to thin the sauce with more apple cider vinegar if you want to use it as a salad dressing.
Thai peanut sauce is traditionally paired with Chicken Satay (click for the recipe!), grilled white bread, and this Thai Cucumber Salad. Check out Leela’s post about How to Eat Satay. She has pictures of ordering satay in Bangkok and exactly how to eat it. This is what inspired me to make this meal! I’ve never made anything like this and it was kind of life changing.
But we don’t have to limit ourselves here. There are SO many things you can do with this peanut sauce. Like I said, my family and I were putting it on everything for several days, using up the giant pot we made! Here are some more ideas for how to use peanut sauce:
What else can I use Thai Peanut Sauce for?
- Stir some into a pot of noodles for a simple pasta main dish. Use regular wheat pasta, rice noodles, soba noodles, etc.
- Add a few tablespoons extra apple cider vinegar and turn it into a salad dressing
- Peanut chicken wrap: add sauce to cooked chicken and shredded carrot, green onions, etc. Wrap in tortilla or butter lettuce leaf, and dip in more sauce!
- use as a dip for fresh vegetables. What a fun alternative to regular ol Ranch!
- Use it as a sauce for your next pizza. Top the pizza with chicken and mozzarella and bake! Garnish the top with Thai Cucumber Salad or shredded carrots and green onions!
- Use as a dip for spring rolls
- Top cooked vegetables like broccoli, green beans, cooked carrots, roasted potatoes, anything!
- Dip dumplings in it
- Add a bit of oil and more lime juice and turn it into a marinade for chicken or pork
- Top any cooked meat: chicken, pork, even seafood like shrimp or salmon!
- Dip apples in it. Apples dipped in peanut butter is a classic. But dipped in Peanut Sauce? Even better.
More sauces and dips you will enjoy!
- How to Make Easy Chimichurri << this is another sauce you can put on just about anything.
- Garlic Aioli Recipe << I love this on sandwiches like this BLT!
- The Best Chipotle Mayo << try dipping fries in this. The best!!
- How to Make a Balsamic Reduction << I love this on salads.
- Homemade Teriyaki Sauce from Easy Peasy Meals
- Asian Marinade Master Sauce Recipe from FoodieCrush
- Miso Ginger Dressing Recipe from Cookin Canuck
Thai Peanut Sauce
- 3/4 cup peanut butter*
- 1 (13-oz) can coconut milk
- 1/4 cup Thai red curry paste
- 1/4 cup granulated sugar
- 1 clove garlic, smashed and minced
- zest and juice of 1 lime
- 2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
- 1 & 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
- 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes, optional
- 1/2 cup water, optional
- In a small saucepan, combine all ingredients: 3/4 cup peanut butter*, 1 can coconut milk, 1/4 cup Thai red curry paste,** 1/4 cup sugar, 1 clove minced garlic, the zest of 1 lime plus all the juice, 2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar, 1 and 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt, and 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes. If you would like a thinner sauce (for drizzling consistency) add up to 1/2 cup water. (I left the water out entirely, and you can see from the photos that the consistency is thicker, the better to dip into.)
- Whisk it all together over medium heat, breaking up the peanut butter.
- Once the mixture reaches a low boil, turn the heat down to low and let simmer lightly for 3-4 minutes, until thickened some. Remove from heat and let cool. Peanut sauce is traditionally served at room temperature.
- Store leftover sauce in the fridge. It will keep for up to two weeks. The leftover sauce with solidify in the fridge; gently heat on low (or microwave it) and add small amounts of water to reach the consistency you want.
This recipe is adapted from Leela Punyaratabandhu's Thai peanut sauce, found on her website She Simmers. Leela also has several Thai cookbooks that I'm totally interested in buying! If you are interested in authentic Thai cooking, definitely check out her work!
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