My first restaurant job was at a little lunch cafe famous for its giant cookies, towering hummus sandwiches, and cold peanut noodles. This husband-and-wife-run neighborhood joint was regularly filled with young professionals slurping cold, spicy soba noodles from plastic clamshell containers. While the owners were always generous with recipes — they gave me a notebook of their cookie recipes when I left that job to attend culinary school — they would not share the secrets to their peanut sauce.
I have spent many years, and many jars of peanut butter, trying to replicate that well-loved sauce. All those trials and errors have led me to this recipe. I can definitively say the recipe here is the easiest, creamiest, most versatile peanut sauce you can make from pantry staples. There are a few surprising things you learn during the search for a really good peanut sauce, all of which I'm sharing with you now!
The Creamiest Peanut Sauce: Watch the Video
What Is Peanut Sauce?
What do you think of when it comes to peanut sauce? The side condiment you eat with your chicken satay? Or is it the sauce drizzled over noodles at your favorite restaurant? Over time, peanut sauce has come to refer to many things. We know its roots are in the many sauces and marinades made from fried and ground peanuts commonly found throughout Asia, Indonesia, and Africa, but for the everyday home kitchen, we're taking inspiration from these flavors to make a sauce that relies on common pantry staples starting with your regular, run-of-the-mill peanut butter.
Since that ingredient takes the lead, you could easily think of this as a peanut butter sauce. It's a spectacular dipping sauce for summer rolls and grilled meats and makes a mean bowl of soba noodles. The rich peanut flavor gets some brightness from lime and rice wine vinegar, a subtle sweetness from honey, and plenty of spice from chile paste, garlic, and ginger.
Here's what you need to know for peanut sauce success.
- Use mass-market peanut butter for a creamier, longer-lasting sauce. Remember JIF? That's the stuff you want. This creamy peanut butter base won't separate during storage and makes this sauce even more versatile by giving it body for dipping while also being easy to thin with water (without breaking the emulsion, no less).
- Make a flavorful vinaigrette before adding the peanut butter. The thinking behind this sauce came from an aha moment I had while testing the dressing for this no-cook noodle bowl. The vinaigrette hit all the flavor notes beloved in peanut sauce — all it needed was some peanut flavor.
- Thin the sauce with water for various applications. This sauce is easy to assemble and can be used right away for dipping, but for pouring over salads or tossing with noodles it needs to be thinned with a little water.
What to Buy for the Best Peanut Sauce
I've promised a sauce made from pantry staples, so here are the chosen few. Keep these four ingredients in your kitchen at all times and this sauce is a breeze to make. Here's what you need to know if you're picking up any new-to-you ingredients.
Soy sauce or Tamari
Soy sauce is the fermented liquid of soybeans that have been soaked, steamed, and churned into paste. Look for a soy sauce whose only ingredient is soybeans. Tamari is the gluten-free cousin of soy sauce made from 100% soybeans. It has a slightly deeper flavor than soy sauce. You can use either for adding to marinades or salad dressings.
Pro tip: Try a thin drizzle over vanilla ice cream and you might never look at soy sauce the same way again.
Sambal (or Garlic Chile Paste)
If you already know and love spicy Sriracha, then sambal needs to be in your fridge. This thick sauce of crushed chiles, pepper, and other flavorings such as garlic or ginger can be used to add fiery flavor to recipes with ease. Sambal and garlic chile paste (specially the Hong Foy brand, who also produces Sriracha sauce) are often used interchangeably, although the latter has more garlic flavor. This sheet pan shrimp and broccoli is one of my favorite recipes for using sambal.
Rice vinegar is actually my favorite pantry vinegar. It's so subtle and delicate; I love it for making salad dressings or just splashing onto ripe cucumbers and tomatoes with a little salt. It also makes a wonderful quick pickle brine. Look for unseasoned rice vinegar — you can use it in more ways than the seasoned stuff.
I strongly believe sesame oil is the secret ingredient to amazing peanut sauce. You might not miss it if it wasn't there, but when present, it elevates this nutty sauce to the next level. Toasted Asian sesame oil is wonderful for sautéing vegetables, but it has a lower smoke point than neutral oils so partner it with olive or canola oil when cooking. It's pretty robustly flavored, so a little goes a long way.
Read more: Ingredient Spotlight: Sesame Oil
How to Use This Peanut Sauce
Fresh out of the jar or mixing bowl, this sauce is velvety and thick. Use it for dipping summer rolls, satay, or other grilled meat. I love to slather it onto sandwiches and wraps too. If you plan on using the sauce to coat noodles or as a salad dressing, thin it with one to three tablespoons of water before tossing.
Peanut sauce stores well in the fridge for at least a week, but pull it out while you're assembling summer rolls or cooking noodles — it's easier to use at room temperature.
How To Make Easy Creamy Peanut Sauce
Makes 3/4 cup
What You Need
freshly squeezed lime juice (from 1 lime)
tamari or soy sauce
finely grated peeled fresh ginger
1/2 to 1 teaspoon
sambal or Asian chili-garlic paste
creamy peanut butter
Asian sesame oil
2 to 3 tablespoons
Microplane or fine grater
Measuring cups and spoons
2-cup jar with lid, or mixing bowl and whisk
Make a flavorful vinaigrette. Place the lime juice, tamari or soy sauce, vinegar, honey, ginger, garlic, and chile-garlic paste together in a 2-cup glass jar, seal, and shake to combine. Alternatively, use a bowl and whisk to combine.
Add the peanut butter and shake again to combine. Add the peanut butter, olive oil, and sesame oil. Seal the jar and shake vigorously for 30 seconds until the sauce comes together, or whisk until combined. Serve as a dipping sauce.
Thin the sauce, as needed. Pour in 2 tablespoons of water, replace the lid and shake until incorporated, or whisk until combined. Add more water 1 teaspoon at a time until desired consistency is reached for coating noodles.
Storage: Refrigerate leftovers in an airtight container for up to 1 week. Let sit at room temperature before using.