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Orang Asing Gado Gado: Party Perfect Peanut Sauce

Having been around the block a few times with various “authentic” peanut sauce recipes that start out with whole raw peanuts and dried shrimp, I’ve long since given up any pretensions of ethnic accuracy and settled on the below recipe since I found it both tasty–with a fine balance between savor, sweet, and spice–and easy. The more traditional recipes I’d undertaken in the past were only on rare occasions tasty or easy– and were never both.

But who knew the search for the perfect peanut sauce was so universal? A surprising number of people zeroed in on the peanut sauce in particular at the Southeast Asian-flava’d baby shower we threw over the weekend. “Where’d you get the recipe?” “Can I have it?”

But of course! I did, however, have to do some post-party forensics to figure out what exactly I did. Rest assured, though, the below recipe is a very faithful recounting… in any event, it’ll be way better than most other recipes out there. Trust me, I’ve tried most of them–clotty, clumpy, oily, gakky, bitter, bland, and tasteless… it’s like a veritable Seven Dwarves of Bad Peanut Sauce out there. Ech.

At the party, I served it up in a bowl surrounded with a variety of crudite and other dippers–a riff on gado gado, an Indonesian salad that usually finds par-cooked long beans, potatoes, hard boiled eggs, and other veggies napped in a delicious blanket of peanutty goodness and topped with emping, those puffy shrimp cracker things.

I used regular green beans, added red radish and jicama sticks, and totally forgot about the emping. C’est la vie. Use whatever veggies you’ve got and it will be delish. I imagine the sauce would also be pretty badass thinned out a bit with water and tossed over chilled rice noodles and shredded cucumber and bell peppers. Just a thought.

Oh, and do not be tempted to skip the fish sauce. It is already a stand in for the dried shrimp, which are admittedly a little pungently weird and a pain to deal with. The fish sauce adds the same funky tang that makes so much of Southeast Asian cuisine unique. So, suck it up and go get some. You’ll thank me later.

Gado Gado Peanut Sauce
Yield: ~2 1/2c

1 tsp peanut oil
2 large shallots (or 1 small onion)
1 hot red chili
3 cloves garlic
juice of 2 limes
1 tbs soy sauce
1 tbs fish sauce
2 tbs dark brown sugar
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp ground white pepper (or black, in a pinch)
1 5.6oz can coconut milk
1/2 c smooth peanut butter
~1 c water

Finely mince the shallots, garlic, and chili.

In a medium saucepan, warm the peanut oil over highest heat. When nearly smoking, add the minced onion and… don’t do anything. We’re looking for a a quick bit of browning–almost charring–on the onion. If you’re pan is really screaming hot, it’ll take less than a minute for some (not all) of the onion to come perilously close to burning. Once you reach that point, drop the heat to medium, add the garlic and chili and stir vigorously, cooking for another 2-3 minutes or until everything is translucently wilted.

Add 2/3 of the lime juice and all of the soy, fish sauce, brown sugar, salt, and white pepper. Stir vigorously to deglaze the pan, scraping up any browned bits.

Reduce the heat to low and stir in the coconut milk. Add the peanut butter and stir till melted into the sauce. Add about 2/3 of the water. You should have a loose sauce (it’ll thicken on standing/cooling). Taste and add a little more lime juice, sugar, and/or hot sauce to taste.

Serve with veggies for gado gado or thin with water and toss with cooked noodles and shredded veggies.

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