March 18, 2015 § 4 Comments
Last Friday’s Birthday Week Indulgence was lunch at one of my go-to “quick food” spots in the 650: Asian Box. (More about that some other time.) While I was watching the locals fight it out for lunch-time parking spots in the ridiculously crowded Palo Alto Town & Country shopping center and digging into my usual — rice noodles with tofu and vegetables, topped with peanut sauce and sriracha — I was thinking about how essential that peanut sauce was. That my Box lunch wouldn’t be nearly as craveable without it (at least not enough to get me to brave the Town & Country parking lot on Friday afternoon). That I’m ambivalent about peanut butter, but will happily eat peanut sauce. Peanut sauce is delicious and complex, with that umami thing that keeps me coming back for more.
So, come Sunday afternoon when I’m trying to figure out how I’m going to make space in my jam-packed refrigerator (and which kitchen experiments I need to sacrifice to the compost bin), I come across not one, but two containers of DIY Crunchy Peanut Butter. Oof, I’m not eating that any time soon. Unless! Why not make my own peanut sauce? I gathered up a few condiments from the refrigerator (confession: I love condiments and probably have waaay too many), a container of simple syrup (leftover from making limoncello), and olive oil.
The version I came up with isn’t “authentic,” but it is easy to make, flavorful, and adds some punch to a quick meal of noodles and steamed vegetables. The fun in making this sauce from scratch was using ingredients that I had on hand and thinking of them as building blocks of flavor. How was I going to balance sweet, tart, spicy, with that umami flavor that makes peanut sauce so interesting and craveable?
First things first: I had to thin the peanut butter, which mean adding some oil. Olive oil is my default for savory cooking, so I’d added it to the peanut butter, almost without thinking. (Later it occurred that peanut oil might have been a better choice, but oh well.) I added a touch of sesame oil for variety and to complement the roasted peanut flavor. That left me to figure out — by trial and error — how to add complexity while balancing the sweet, tart, and salty components. I started by adding some ponzu sauce, to hit the notes of sweetness, saltiness, and tartness all at once. From there I adjusted the sweet/spicy combo by adding some simple syrup and some sriracha. Finally I added some fish sauce for its umami quality. Fish sauce on its own? Not so great. But it really does add that final oomph to a sauce.
I’ve been trying not to slather this sauce on every meal this week, but it’s my new favorite condiment. Give it a try, and feel free to tweak the flavor components to your taste — that’s the best part of DIY!
Recipe: Peanut Sauce
Yield: About 1/2 cup
While this sauce is an easy pairing for Asian-style noodles, such as soba or mai fun, you can also use it as salad dressing or a dipping sauce for grilled vegetables, chicken or tofu. Need more sauce? Double the recipe!
2.5 ounces DIY Crunchy Peanut Butter (or your favorite brand of natural, crunchy peanut butter), warmed/softened in the microwave on high for 15 seconds
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon sesame oil
1 tablespoon simple syrup
1 tablespoon ponzu sauce
1½ teaspoons sriracha (or to taste)
1 teaspoon fish sauce (or to taste)
- Place the peanut butter in a small mixing bowl.
- Add the olive and sesame oils to the mixing bowl and mix with a fork, combining until smooth.
Keep stirring until all of the oil has been combined with the peanut butter. The mixture will appear thinner and lighter colored, but don’t worry, it will thicken up when you add the remaining ingredients.
- Add the simple syrup and ponzu sauce to the peanut butter and oil mixture, stirring in a tight center (creating a whirlpool-like effect).
Continue stirring until the mixture is smooth. You’re creating a water-in-oil emulsion by adding the liquid simple syrup and ponzu sauce. The result is a lot like what happens when you make a chocolate ganache.
- Add the fish sauce and sriracha to the sauce, mixing thoroughly to combine.
- Taste the sauce and adjust the sweetness, saltiness, and spice to your taste by adding a bit more simple syrup, fish sauce, or sriracha.
Take it easy with the fish sauce; a little goes a long way.
- Store in a covered container in the refrigerator.
March 2, 2015 § 1 Comment
If you were following along with last week’s user test of Alice Medrich’s Peanut Crunch Brownies, then you might recall that I found myself sans a key ingredient when it came time to make said brownies. Yup, not a spoonful of crunchy, salted natural peanut butter in the house. Crap. While I will happily make peanut butter treats for other people, I’m not really a fan (see my post about PB&J cookies). Pecan Butter? Yep! Almond butter? Bien sûr! But peanut butter? Meh. And yet, I’m willing to keep giving it a chance when the opportunity to try out some new sweet recipe happens along.
What I did find was a tub of unroasted, unsalted peanuts. (And no, I have no idea why. I’m sure there was a get-around-to-it recipe that inspired that purchase.) Hey, when life gives you peanuts…well, you know what to do. For those of you are peanut butter lovers, well, today is your day. Seriously, it’s National Peanut Butter Lovers Day, so get inspired to DIY!
Making peanut butter at home is super-easy and has the added benefit of letting you tweak the sticky stuff to your liking. And good news for those of you following diets that limit your salt or sugar intake: you don’t have to hunt down commercial peanut butter brands when you can make your own — fresh! (Low FODMAPs folks, rejoice! You can use simple syrup, golden syrup, or maple syrup to sweeten your peanut butter!) When you DIY, you can have it your way.
Recipe: DIY Crunchy Peanut Butter
This recipe makes 8 ounces of peanut butter, which is enough for a batch of Peanut Crunch Brownies, with a little left over for noshing while you wait for the brownies to bake. For a creamy peanut butter variation, skip steps 4 and 5 and just grind the whole batch of roasted peanuts.
8 ounces unroasted, unsalted peanuts
Liquid sweetener (optional): rich simple syrup, honey, golden syrup, maple syrup, or agave nectar
What you need:
Half sheet pan, lined with parchment paper
Small mixing bowl
- Preheat oven to 325° F. Arrange the peanuts in a single layer on parchment paper-lined sheet pan.
- Roast peanuts for 10-12 minutes, turning the pan and stirring peanuts so that they color evenly.
I like a light roast with a golden color. If you like a more roasty flavor, you can roast the nuts for as long as 15 minutes. Make sure you turn the pan and stir the nuts at five-minute intervals. You don’t want to roast them too long, or they’ll take on a bitter flavor.
- Let nuts cool to room temperature.
- Place 1.2 ounces (about 3 rounded tablespoons) of roasted nuts in the food processor and pulse until chopped.
In my food processor, this took about 8 pulses, give or take. Want smaller pieces? Pulse more.
- Remove chopped nuts from the food processor and set aside.
- Place remaining peanuts in the food processor bowl, attach the blade and lid and process until smooth, 4 to 5 minutes. Stop the processor about halfway through (at the 2 to 2½ minute mark) to scrape down any crumblies from the side of the bowl.
After 45-60 seconds, you’ll have peanut “powder,” and after 1½ minutes, you’ll have a crumbly “dough.”
Keep going. After about 2 minutes, you’ll have peanut paste, at which point you’ll want to scrape down the bowl.
I usually let my peanut butter go about 5 minutes so that it’s realllly smooth.
- Scrape the smooth peanut butter from the food processor bowl into the mixing bowl and add the chopped peanuts, mixing with a rubber spatula to combine.
- Optional: Add salt to taste.
Taste the peanut butter first. Does it need salt? If so, start with ⅛ teaspoon. Sprinkle the salt on top of the peanut butter, mix in thoroughly, then taste. You’ll taste the salt on the back of your palate, so take a minute for the flavor and saltiness to register before deciding to add more. Be conservative when adding more salt: sprinkle on a pinch (or 1/16 teaspoon), mix it in, then taste. Repeat until your peanut butter has the right amount of saltiness for you.
- Optional: Add liquid sweetener to taste.
I think peanut butter needs a little sweetening, to balance any salt added and to complement the roasted nut flavor. Start by drizzling 1 teaspoon of the sweetener of your choice over the peanut butter, mixing it in thoroughly and tasting. Need more? Add in another ½ teaspoon and taste again. You know the drill. I used 1½ teaspoons of rich simple syrup (4 ounces of organic cane sugar combined with 2 ounces of water, brought to a boil, then cooled.)
- Store your peanut butter in a covered container in the refrigerator.
It should keep for about two months.
- To soften chilled peanut butter, spoon peanut butter into a microwave-safe container and heat for 15-second increments at 50% power.