Peanut Sauce (Sambal Kacang)

Peanut Sauce (Sambal Kacang)
(Louise Hagger)

Peanut Sauce (Sambal Kacang)

There are as many ways to make peanut sauce as there are sambals, but the most obvious differences are between those made with peanut butter and those made from scratch using raw peanuts fried in hot oil. I asked many Indonesians why so many of their recipes use peanut butter if the authentic way is better. "For Westerners!" they all answered. My Australian mother loves to make a quick peanut butter satay sauce, so I do feel an affinity for the Western way, but it really is worth the extra effort to deep-fry the peanuts, as it gives a nuttier depth of flavor and a darker color.

In Timorese communities where oil is scarce, peanuts are dry-roasted in woks filled with hot sand from the beach, the heat of the sun and sand turning the peanuts a lovely golden brown. You can also roast peanuts in the oven, which produces a result nearly as good as the fried version, but for me, deep-fried is best. However, I have provided an alternative that uses peanut butter, to tip my hat to all the home cooks out there who love a good shortcut.

Peanut sauce is great drizzled over salads, on burgers, or any grilled meat, or served with satay skewers or vegetables. It will last for up to 4 days in the fridge or up to 3 months in the freezer.

Origin: Popular all over Indonesia Chile Heat: Mild
Makes 2 portions as a dressing or dipping sauce
  • 1/2 cup (2 2/3 ounces) unsalted, raw peanuts, preferably with their skin on (or 1/3 cup unsweetened, unsalted smooth peanut butter)
  • 2 long red chiles, deseeded and very finely chopped
  • 1 garlic clove, peeled and crushed
  • 4 teaspoons kecap manis (shop-bought or homemade, recipe follows), or more to taste
  • 2 teaspoons tamarind paste (or 2 teaspoons lime juice mixed with 2 teaspoons brown sugar)
  • Large pinch of sea salt
  • Sunflower oil, for frying
  • About 4 tablespoons water
If using raw peanuts, heat 2/3 cup of oil to 320 degrees F in a deep saucepan over a high heat. (If you do not have a kitchen thermometer, check the oil is at temperature by adding a cube of bread; it should turn golden in 25–30 seconds.) Carefully lower the peanuts into the hot oil using a slotted spoon. Stirring continuously, as peanuts can easily burn, fry for 4–5 minutes until golden. Remove the peanuts from the pan with a slotted spoon and transfer to a tray lined with paper towels to absorb any excess oil.

Heat 1 tablespoon of oil in a frying pan over a medium heat, add the chiles and garlic, and fry until softened, about 4 minutes.

Place the fried peanuts or peanut butter in a small food processor with the cooked garlic and chiles, kecap manis, tamarind paste, and salt. Pulse briefly, then add a splash of water to loosen the sauce and pulse again. Gradually add water (about 4 tablespoons) and continue to pulse until the sauce is a pourable consistency. Season with salt or more kecap manis as needed.

Homemade Kecap Manis (Indonesian Sweet Soy Sauce)

I adore shop-bought kecap manis, but it can be difficult to find in some general supermarkets. This recipe makes a perfect substitute and, stored in an airtight container, keeps for several weeks in the fridge.
Makes about 1/2 cup
  • 1/4 cup light soy sauce or gluten-free tamari
  • 1/2 cup palm sugar or brown sugar
Combine the soy sauce and sugar in a small saucepan, place over a medium heat, and bring to a simmer. Reduce the heat to low and thicken to the consistency of maple syrup. This should take no longer than 5 minutes. Leave to cool.
Recipe reprinted from "Coconut and Sambal" by arrangement with Bloomsbury Publishing. Copyright 2020, Lara Lee.