NOTE: An updated version of this recipe appears in my cookbook, The Ancestral Table.
Satay sauce is primarily a dipping sauce in the United States, but it takes on a different role in Southeast Asia, where it originated; in addition to being a dipping sauce, it is used as a general purpose condiment to provide depth to dishes, and is the pivotal ingredient in many dishes such as gado-gado in Indonesia. In Australia, it’s a flavor you can have added to kebabs (to delicious effect, I might add), and is used as a condiment in many parts of Europe as well.
Because peanuts are not Paleo-friendly, I replaced the peanuts with a combination of walnuts, almonds, and macadamia nuts. Surprisingly, you can’t really tell that there aren’t any peanuts in this sauce – it’s the combination of shrimp paste, garlic, coconut milk, and palm sugar that really give this sauce its signature taste. If you have no restrictions on peanuts, I made no other substitution so you can just throw them back into the mix.
1 cup of a combination of walnuts, almonds, and macadamia nuts (unsalted and roasted)
1 heaping tbsp shrimp paste
1 tsp coconut oil
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 tbsp coconut palm sugar
1/2 tsp sea salt
1 cup coconut milk
Before we get started let’s talk about a couple of these ingredients. Shrimp paste (also known as belacan or trassi) can come in powder, block, or jar form. It’s made by fermenting tiny shrimps in salt and then drying them in the sun. Be sure to check the ingredients – the best pastes will only list shrimp and salt, and sometimes chiles (which is fine). You should be able to find it in most Asian markets. The Thai variation of this paste is milder (and almost exclusively found in jars), so use 1 1/2 tbsp instead of 1 tbsp if you’re using it.
Coconut palm sugar is unique in that it’s crystalized nectar from the flower blossoms of coconut palm trees. It’s one of the only sweeteners we use at the house, in addition to honey, maple syrup, and date molasses. You can find it sold in blocks in Asian markets, but I prefer this version which is unrefined, organic, and in powder form which is much easier to work with.
You first step is to gently toast your nuts in a pan on med/low heat for about five minutes. Once the nuts start to show brown spots, remove them from the heat and allow them to cool.
In the same pan, heat the coconut oil on med/low heat for a few minutes, then add the shrimp paste. Toast it for a few minutes, stirring often. If you are using shrimp paste that came in a jar, you don’t need to add the coconut oil – just spoon it onto a warmed pan and toast it. Once it’s done toasting, set it aside and allow it to cool. Don’t let it burn!
Once the nuts and shrimp paste has cooled (should take about five minutes) pulse/blend them together with the garlic, salt, palm sugar, and a little of the coconut milk. I used a magic bullet and it worked perfectly.
Return your blended mix to the pan and stir in the rest of the coconut milk. Simmer on medium heat for about eight minutes, until the sauce has darkened and thickened. If it gets too thick (it should be the consistency of pea soup), add a little more coconut milk or some water. Serve warm or at room temperature. It should keep in the fridge for about a week.