Noblesse Oblige, dear reader! So I must make a truly stunning revelation. Those of you who regularly follow this cookblog may be astonished to hear it, but – hold on to your chair now!! - not all good sauces are Mayonnaise based!!!
Yes, let that sink in for a moment! Take a deep breath and let that quarter drop! I repeat (in different words): there are indeed a few yummy and useful sauces which need neither egg yolk nor oil. Which forgo the heavenly mustard, the lemon juice and the magic whisk. Which use different ingredients, and still come out edible. I’m aware you can hardly believe this, but, c’me on now, take old Al’s word for it! Has he ever let you down???
Admittedly, such acceptable ‘bohemian’ sauces are extremely few in number (please do not get me started on Hollandaise, Béarnaise, or the mindboggling varieties of Blender-o-naise thatthis evil world’s brought forth…). But Indonesian Peanut Sauce must most certainly be counted among that limited number. Despite its odd, near-Nietzschian Umwertung Aller Werte (water comes in the place of oil; oily nuts in place of honest yolk!) it is a splendid sauce, of tremendous taste, countless applications, and inviting ease to make.
So, without more ado, bring out the saucepan and the stirring spoon and let us set to work!
Indonesian Sateh Sauce
40 grams of roasted peanuts per person (or 40 grams of peanut butter)
Water, however much it takes
Half an onion
A clove of garlic
Sambal (Hot Indonesian Red Pepper sauce)
Sweet soy sauce
Coconut milk or coconut butter (if you can find it)
1 or 2 cloves
1 or 2 cardamom pods
Some ground cumin
There are two ways to start this sauce: the first, and more authentic one, starts with a bagful of roasted peanuts. The other skips a stage, and starts from ready-made peanut butter. Both are fine in my (quite critical) book, AS LONG AS YOU DO NOT USE THAT MOST HORRID VARIETY OF YANKEE PEANUTBUTTER, the abominable stuff, full of sugars and perfumes, that usually comes plastered with Stars ‘n’ Stripes wherever you look, and often sports pictures of Football Hulks and Superblond Cheerleaders on the label. Avoid such horrors, and try to get an ecological, vegetarian, or health food variety instead. Even if it happens to come from weirdo places like Sweden or Holland, where peanuts do not even grow! (As in this picture)
If you start from peanuts you will have to convert them into a sort of peanut butter paste yourself. For this you need a blender (it can be done by hand but it takes three days…) Get the machine out, plug it in and toss in some 40 grams of peeled, roasted peanuts for every guest you hope to impress. Run until you get a paste. If need be, add a little oil to smoothen the process (but be careful there: peanuts are greasy enough by themselves already!)
Now chop about half a middle sized onion and a good clove of garlic into very small pieces. Get out a deep sauce pan and fry these in one teaspoon of vegetable oil for about a minute. As soon as they are hot, toss in a fair spoonful of Sambal, or any other sort of red pepper preserve you happen to have at hand. Let this fry for a moment as well.
Now put in the peanut paste you made, or the peanut butter from the jar. Let it melt and get really hot. Stir so as not to let it burn too much. Once it begins to bubble, it is time to add a splash of water. TAKE CARE: at first, the water will not dilute the sauce, but – for some funny chemical reason unknown to me – it will stiffen it like drying cement and change its colour to deep dark brown. That is precisely what you want it to do. Stir until all the water has been absorbed. Then repeat the process. You will need to add about three to four times the amount of water as the original volume of peanut butter, but this must be done little by little, splash by splash, as you keep stirring.
At long last, you will notice that the water gets the upper hand, and the sauce begins to get fluid. This is the moment to put in the following ingredients: 1 or 2 cloves, 1 or 2 cardamom pods, a teaspoon of ground cumin, a very sturdy splash of sweet soy sauce, a fair chunk of coconut butter from a block, or coconut milk from a can. (You may also add some sweet exotic fruit juice for extra ‘fruitiness’).
Keep stirring, until the coco butter is dissolved. Let the sauce bubble softly for three minutes more. Add more water if it looks like it’s getting too thick and sticky, or if too much oil bubbles to the surface. Finally, remove the pan from the fire and let it sit and cool, covered, for a couple of hours. Shortly before you serve dinner, heat it up again very slowly, always stirring so that it does not cake on the bottom of the pan, adding water if the sauce, once warm, is too thick.
The marvellous quality of this grand sauce is that it is able to turn every bland or boring dish into a veritable feast. Do you have a greyish, tasteless chunk of meat? Daub it with Sateh Sauce and you will ride to heaven. Is there nothing in your pantry (or on the menu due to them awful vegetarian friends your spouse invited to dinner AGAIN this decade…) except bland rice and broiled vegetables? Pour some peanut sauce on top, and the evening is saved! A plate of eggs on a bed of Sateh Sauce is an irresistible temptation! And I have even known people who served Peanut Sauce with fish (steamed mackerel for instance), but I must admit those were not the people I most admired for their culinary skills (if you get my drift…).
Traditionally, however, Sateh Sauce goes with Sateh (surprise!), which is grilled chunks of chicken or pork on a bamboo stick. And that is how it really is best. Needless to say: kids love this stuff, as long as it is not too spicy!