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Vietnamese Peanut Sauce

Updated February 23, 2016
This image courtesy of Joseph DeLeo

Nuoc leo may read like a close cousin of satay sauce, but it’s very distinctively Vietnamese. It's a little chunky and salty, and reddish brown in color. Rich with peanuts and ground pork, sour with tomato, and salty with fermented soybean sauce, it makes a great dip for cucumber slices and other raw vegetables.

The sauce will keep well-sealed in the refrigerator for 3 days or in the freezer for 1 month. Reheat it in a small pan and simmer briefly before placing in a serving bowl.

Dry-Roasted Peanuts

1 cup whole skinless peanuts

Start with whole skinless peanuts from an Asian grocery. They’re white and fat. Sometimes they’ve been boiled, sometimes they’re raw. If you can find only peanuts with the skins on, you’ll need to rub the skins off after dry-roasting.

Place a heavy large skillet over medium heat. Add about 1 cup peanuts and use a wooden spoon to move them around the pan frequently to prevent sticking and burned spots as they roast.

They will start to develop golden patches and become aromatic; if you notice any black patches on the nuts before they have turned light brown, remove the pan from the heat for a moment and lower the heat, then return the pan to the heat and continue.

Once the peanuts are golden brown in large patches all over, transfer them to a large cutting board and coarsely chop.

Or, let them cool, then transfer to a food processor and pulse briefly to coarsely chop; be careful not to overprocess—you do not want a paste.

Store, once completely cooled, in a well-sealed container in a cool place.

In Vietnam and Cambodia, chopped dry-roasted peanuts are often mixed with sugar to make a sweetened topping for desserts or sticky rice.

Cooking Methodstir-frying

CostInexpensive

Easy

Total Timeunder 30 minutes

Make Ahead RecipeYes

Equipmentfood processor, mortar and pestle, wok

Taste and Texturegarlicky, nutty, savory, spiced

Type of Dishsauces

Ingredients

  • ¼ cup Dry-Roasted Peanuts (see Notes)
  • Scant 2 tablespoons tamarind pulp, dissolved in 2 tablespoons warm water, or substitute scant 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 2 teaspoons peanut oil
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 3 tablespoons ground pork
  • 3 tablespoons fermented soybean paste (tuong in Vietnamese; dao jiao in Thai)
  • About 1 cup water
  • 1½ teaspoons sugar
  • 1 to 2 bird chiles, minced
  • Generous squeeze of fresh lime juice (optional)

Instructions

Place the peanuts in a food processor or large mortar and process or pound to a coarse powder; set aside. If using tamarind, press it through a sieve; reserve the liquid and discard the solids.

Heat the oil in a wok or skillet over high heat. Add the garlic and stir-fry until it is starting to change color, about 15 seconds.

Toss in the pork and use your spatula to break it up into small pieces.

Once it all has changed color, add the soybean paste and the tamarind or tomato paste and stir to blend.

Stir in ½ cup of the water, then stir in most of the ground peanuts, reserving about 1 tablespoon for garnish.

Stir in the sugar and chiles. Add up to ½ cup more water, until you have the desired texture: a thick liquid, pourable but not watery.

Serve in small individual condiment bowls or in one medium bowl with a spoon so guests can drizzle sauce onto their food or onto their plates. Serve warm or at room temperature, squeezing on the optional lime juice and sprinkling on the reserved ground peanuts just before serving.

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