Peanut sauce is comfort food, Southeast Asian style. Sweet, with a hit of curry and a balancing note from vinegar or lime, the sauce has notes of hot, salty, sour, and sweet–the four pillars of this region’s cuisine.
A bowl of peanut sauce is prime for dipping. In Indonesia, Thailand, Malaysia, and Singapore, the vehicle for this sauce is sate (also known as satay).
At night markets and hawker stalls across these countries, charcoal grills give off fragrant smoke as they cook meat sliced thin and threaded onto skewers. In Thailand, there’s chicken and pork, and the peanut sauce for dipping is creamy with coconut. Since peanut sauce is rich, it’s served on the side. Eaters get to decide just how much they want to load up their sate with sauce. Often, it’s a lot. People really love their condiments there.
In Bali, lemongrass poses as the skewer, holding pieces of beef, fish, or even turtle. Vendors bundle up a serving of grilled meat–customer’s choice–and match the skewers with a sweeter version of the sauce, sometimes simply poured into the bottom of a take-out bag. Messy and authentic. The sate is served beside rice steamed in coconut leaves, known as ketupat. Even plain rice provides the perfect base for sopping up extra peanut sauce.
There is also a little salad that’s crunchy and tangy and fresh, made from onions, shallots, cucumbers, or herbs. It acts like a relish, to cool down your tongue after the spices in the sauce or the marinade.
This area of the world is not alone. In some respects, sate isn’t too distant from the Middle-Eastern kebab or the North African brochette. Around the globe, cooks flip skewers of meat over the barbecue, imbuing that chicken, pork, beef, or fish with a smoky flavor. With an oven, some skewers, and a whisked-together peanut dipping sauce, we’ll plan to join them.
You can live vicariously through photography of sate stalls at markets in Singapore, Chiang Mai, Bangkok, and Jakarta.
Check out our own recipe for Chicken Sate with Peanut Sauce and Marinated Green Tomatoes. If you sign up for Blue Apron by tomorrow at noon, we’ll deliver all the ingredients for the sate to you next week.