Crispy Tofu Rice Bowls with the Best Thai Peanut Sauce

Crispy Tofu Rice Bowls with the Best Thai Peanut Sauce

I’m about to be one of those people that is way too excited for a Monday.

You know… the ones who are bouncing around at 8 AM and draw a dark look from you because… Monday. Monday morning. Why so cheerful?

Well, thanks for asking. It’s actually because of this peanut sauce. {Insert ear-to-ear grin here.}

Crispy Tofu Rice Bowls with the Best Thai Peanut Sauce

I recently found myself on a quest to master a Thai peanut sauce recipe.

It started, as these things often do for me, with a restaurant dish. Specifically the peanut sauce at our go-to Thai takeout place. I am head over heels in love with that peanut sauce. They serve it as a salad dressing, as a dipping sauce for spring rolls, and as a sauce over steamed vegetables and rice. It is incredible and I bet you I’ve dreamed about it before. It’s not stretching the truth to say that I go there just for the peanut sauce.

Crispy Tofu Rice Bowls with the Best Thai Peanut Sauce

I’ve posted not one but two peanut sauces on this blog before, and I like them both. My go-to recipe is more of a Chinese peanut sauce with sesame oil, soy sauce, garlic, lime juice, etc. But the Thai takeout sauce blows that one out of the water. It is just as coconutty as it is peanut buttery, and mysteriously sweet with a kick of spice. I could tell the ingredients were much different from what I usually use. Over the past few months, my curiosity on takeout nights went from a mild “hmm, I wonder what they put in this stuff” to a more intrigued “I should probably try to recreate this” to finally a desperate “I NEED THIS RECIPE NOW!”

So did I ask for the recipe? Of course not. That would be too easy awkward. Instead I relied on friends with more refined palates than I, plus a bit of googling, to arrive at what I’m positive is the exact combination of ingredients used in my dream peanut sauce.

I’m pretty excited to share it with you.

Crispy Tofu Rice Bowls with the Best Thai Peanut Sauce

I’m also pretty excited to pour it over a bowl of rice, veggies, and crispy tofu. But we’ll get to that part.

First we need to talk more about the best Thai peanut sauce ever.

Yes, I said the best Thai peanut sauce ever. It’s a bold claim. But, after making five batches of peanut sauce in as many days in my takeout-induced frenzy, it’s one I’m willing to stand behind. I actually thought I might OD on peanut butter before ever posting this recipe, so I’m glad I’m around to share it with you at all.

Crispy Tofu Rice Bowls with the Best Thai Peanut Sauce

The secrets to this peanut sauce are as follows:

Coconut milk. Fresh ginger. And peanut butter (but not too much).

That was the easy part.

There are only two other ingredients, and they are what MAKE it:

1) Sweet soy sauce. If you’ve never heard of it before, welllll I hadn’t either. It’s an Indonesian condiment also called kecap manis, and you can find it in Asian markets. It is thick and syrupy like molasses, and almost as sweet. When I was stuck on trying to recreate this recipe with sugar, my friend Andy mentioned that sweet soy sauce was probably the answer. And bingo! I knew as soon as I tried it out that the flavor was exactly right.

2) And last but not least, red curry paste, which I tried out after a bit of Google research. Just the thing to balance out the sweetness! It also gives this sauce a depth of flavor that lets it hold its own against anything you choose to pour it on: from salad to spring rolls to crispy tofu.

Hallelujah, we have the perfect peanut sauce.

Crispy Tofu Rice Bowls with the Best Thai Peanut Sauce

And now that I’ve sung its praises for, oh, however long it’s taken you to skim over these huge blocks of text… we can move on to the lucky ingredients we are choosing to douse in this sauce.

Let’s be realistic: Thai peanut sauce is going to improve anything you happen to dip in it or douse it with. But for the purposes of cooking up a satisfying weeknight dinner, we’ll go with broccoli and crispy tofu over white rice. Pretty much the most perfect combination ever.

Crispy Tofu Rice Bowls with the Best Thai Peanut Sauce

Let’s not beat around the bush. We are going to pan-fry this tofu. You might have suspected it when I said “crispy,” and yes, it’s true. It’s a little fussier than baking the tofu, and also involves a bit of oil (though not too much, really), but it’s the absolute best way to get that irresistible crispity-crunchity exterior. Perfect for drenching in peanut sauce!

These bowls are one of those easy meals that I love. Just the fried tofu over some steamed rice and broccoli. Perfectly simple and delicious, and not too much chopping involved, either (my usual gripe with Thai cooking). The peanut sauce is the key, naturally, and a sprinkle of green onions and chopped peanuts really takes it over the top.

I told Nate after we’d eaten these bowls with the fifth (and final) batch of peanut sauce that I feel like I’ve mastered a lifelong skill with this recipe. Unlocking the secret to the perfect peanut sauce! I am going to sleep easier tonight.

OK, you can get back to a grumpy Monday now. But just wait, when your head hits the pillow tonight, visions of peanut sauce will be dancing in your head!

Crispy Tofu Rice Bowls with the Best Thai Peanut Sauce

5.0 from 5 reviews
Crispy Tofu Rice Bowls with the Best Thai Peanut Sauce
 
Hands-on time
Cook time
Total time
 
Author:
Yields: 2-3 servings with some peanut sauce leftover
Ingredients
For the tofu:
  • 16 oz extra firm tofu, sliced into small triangles
  • 1/4 cup cornstarch
  • 1 tsp kosher salt
  • about 2 Tbsp high-heat oil such as safflower or canola oil
For the peanut sauce:
  • 1 cup full-fat coconut milk
  • 1/4 cup sweet soy sauce (also called kecap manis, such as ABC brand)
  • 2.5 Tbsp creamy peanut butter*
  • 1 Tbsp minced fresh ginger
  • 1 tsp red Thai curry paste
For serving:
  • steamed rice
  • steamed broccoli
  • sliced green onions
  • chopped peanuts
Instructions
To make the crispy tofu:
  1. Mix together the cornstarch and salt in a bowl. Coat each tofu triangle in the mixture and set on a plate. (Also: you can skip the cornstarch and salt if you prefer; the result won't be as crispy but will still be delicious.)
  2. Heat a large pan over medium-high heat. Add 2 teaspoons of oil and, once hot, add tofu triangles. (You will want to do this in batches so that the pieces don't touch each other.) Fry until golden brown, about 6 minutes per side. Remove to a plate covered in paper towels to drain. Repeat with remaining tofu, using 2 teaspoons of oil per batch.
To make the peanut sauce:
  1. Blend together all ingredients. Warm in the microwave or on the stove before serving.
To serve:
  1. Layer bowls with rice, broccoli, and crispy tofu. Top with peanut sauce, green onions, and chopped peanuts. Enjoy!
Notes
*Use whatever kind of peanut butter you prefer, from all-natural to quite processed.

 

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Comments

  1. says

    LOVE this version of peanut sauce. My sister makes a similar version with coconut milk and curry paste. I think she adds fish sauce (which kind of grosses me out) but love this version. Yum. Happy Monday friend!

  2. says

    When will I ever learn to not look at your blog right before lunch time?! I love love love peanut sauce, and this sounds amazing. I haven’t splurged on coconut milk in a long time, but I might have to sometime soon in the name of making this sauce!

  3. says

    There’s a lunch place near where I work that makes something so similar, only with chicken — I’ve been dying to find a way to make that peanut sauce at home, since I don’t always (okay, ever, lately) want chicken and there are no other options! Thanks so much for sharing :)

  4. Marcia says

    Oh my! What a delightful recipe thank you! One question: my husband is allergic to corn (in all forms) so I cannot use cornstarch. When I’m replacing it to thicken something, I use arrowroot. What do you suggest here? I was wondering about dredging it in rice flour, what do YOU suggest? Just sign me “Dinner on hold Marcia!”

    • Erica says

      Arrowroot or rice flour should both work! You can even skip it completely and just pan-fry the tofu in oil if you like :)

  5. says

    I loovvve peanut sauce! I usually use curry paste in mine, but have never thought to use kecap manis, I’ll have to give it a go – this could be what my peanut sauce has been missing all these years!

  6. Shelby says

    When I read this my first impression was, wow, this girl is lovin on her peanut sauce. But I’m a sucker for a sales pitch and soon found myself in the Asian food section of my grocery store (kikkoman makes a sweet soy sauce!). Let me just say this. There is not one iota of exaggeration in the description. This dish is phenomenal. My only disappointment was not having more left over.

  7. says

    Um, I think developing the best peanut sauce recipe ever beats out any kind of memo board! Just bring this peanut sauce to your wedding and you’ll be fine. ;)

    It really does sound perfect! I will definitely give it a try alongside some crispy tofu. Seriously, I’m already having visions and I’m still awake!

  8. Dad says

    We just had this for dinner tonight and I discovered that our coconut milk comes in 13.5 oz cans. So, dilemma… up-level the recipe to ~1.5X or throw out coconut milk? You know us, so we made LOTS of peanut sauce. Let me just say that there was not very much left over and we are feeling very happy, full and satisfied with this yummy meal. Thanks, Erica!

  9. Jenny says

    THIS IS IT !! THIS IS the PEANUT SAUCE !

    My sister and I love going for Thai mainly for the peanut dishes, and have been searching for a way to make it after being disappointed at restaurants the last couple times. I made this recipe exactly as shown (with natural peanut butter) and it was truly awesome! She has a very low spice tolerance however so I had to add peanut butter and coco milk to her sauce – next time I would do a batch with less ginger/curry paste. Thanks for posting!

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