This spicy peanut butter noodles recipe makes a quick and easy bowl of noodles that are perfect for a fast lunch or mid-week dinner. If you’re in the mood for satay but don’t have time to pound pastes and grind peanuts, this spicy peanut butter sauce should satisfy your cravings. It’s also versatile – use whatever noodles and toppings you have at hand and serve warm or cold.
If you’re a lover of noodle dishes – and we’re talking dry noodle dishes of noodles doused in sauces in this case, in contrast to wet noodle dishes, such as noodle soups and curried noodles – then you should enjoy tucking into a bowl of these spicy peanut butter noodles, drizzled with chilli oil, sprinkled with crunchy pan-roasted peanuts and crispy fried garlic, and garnished with sliced red chillies and fragrant fresh coriander or cilantro.
My spicy peanut butter noodles recipe makes something of a fusion dish – as so many Asian dishes are, after all – obviously inspired by China’s famous Shaxian and Fuzhou peanut butter sauce noodles, usually garnished with scallions and sesame seeds, as well as chilli oil, but clearly influenced by our decades cooking Southeast Asian food.
Back in the mid 1980s, after Terence and I first moved in together in inner-city Sydney, we began eating out several times a week at cheap and cheerful Southeast Asian eateries with my young uncles who had travelled the length and breadth of Asia.
Inspired, we began cooking Asian cuisines at home and one of the dishes I began making was a peanut butter sauce recipe based on saus kacang from The Complete Asian Cookbook by Sri Lankan-born Charmain Solomon, regarded as the ‘Queen of Asian Cooking in Australia’.
Terence and I used to take turns cooking in the tiny kitchen of the terrace house basement flat of the first home we rented together in then-working class Balmain. We each developed our own satay-ish peanut butter sauce recipes that we’d typically prepare with chicken, beef or pork, which we’d eat with rice. Sometimes I’d serve the same sauce simply with noodles or use it to make an Indonesian gado gado vegetable salad.
Years later, after we discovered David Thompson’s Thai Food cookbook and Terence began pounding spice pastes, sauces and relishes from scratch, the days of my peanut butter sauce noodles were over. Not yet aware of China’s beloved Shaxian and Fuzhou peanut butter sauce noodle dish nor of this thing called ‘natural peanut butter’, I mistakenly assumed what I’d been making was a dumbed-down version of a Thai dish as Thai food began to become better known in Australia.
For many years, until we settled in Southeast Asia and began to learn more about the region’s cuisines and the Chinese provenance of so many Southeast Asian dishes, I’d been too embarrassed to share my spicy peanut butter noodles recipe. It was only after discovering China’s Shaxian and Fuzhou peanut butter sauce noodles that it all made sense.
After increasingly spotting recipes for peanut butter noodles and peanut butter sauce popping up on the web, many misidentified as Thai peanut butter noodles, I thought it time I shared the spicy peanut butter noodles recipe I’ve been making all these years – which is essentially a peanut butter sauce with noodles, sprinkled with condiments and garnishes to add texture, heat and fragrance – and I thought I’d clarify the origins of peanut butter sauce noodles while I was at it.
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Spicy Peanut Butter Noodles Recipe for a Quick, Easy and Tasty Bowl of Noodles
The food blogging world is a strange place sometimes – or space, as in food blogging space, as it’s typically called these days – and this spicy peanut butter noodles recipe and the peanut butter sauce that makes it, is a case in point. Well, not my peanut noodles recipe in particular, but spicy peanut noodles recipes more generally.
Firstly, they’re often called ‘spicy Thai peanut noodles’ and they’re nearly all made with peanut butter. Yet there’s no such Thai noodle dish, especially one sprinkled with sesame seeds, which in Thai cooking, like Cambodian cooking, are mostly used in sweets and desserts.
Of course, there is a Thai peanut satay sauce recipe which hails from Southern Thailand and makes a peanut-based sauce that’s typically made with roasted peanuts, a Thai red curry paste, coconut milk, palm sugar, and tamarind sauce.
But that sauce is generally used as a dipping sauce for vegetables or for sate gai or satay chicken skewers (in the Muslim south), as well as sate moo or satay pork skewers in Bangkok and other parts of Thailand. Although more often than not the skewers are served with a vinegar-based sauce made with red chillies, shallots, salt and sugar, not doused over noodles.
In Thai Food, David Thompson’s recipe for a ‘relish of peanuts’ or nahm prik tua pat calls for palm sugar, tamarind water (extracted from ripe tamarind) and fish sauce, to be combined with a paste pounded in a mortar and pestle from dried long red chillies, chopped garlic, ground dried shrimp or ground dried fish, Thai shrimp paste, and peanuts, which is then fried in oil or rendered pork fat.
The chef recommends serving the peanut relish with raw, grilled, deep-fried, or pickled vegetables, vegetables simmered in coconut milk, steamed fish or prawns, crispy fish cakes, or sweet pork. No noodles on Thompson’s list or that of other Thai chefs that we’ve come across.
While most Thai peanut satay sauce recipes call for the peanuts to be ground in a mortar and pestle, I’m sure there must be some home cooks who take short cuts and use peanut butter. Thailand’s Tong Garden, makers of Tong Garden salted peanuts, the crunchiest peanuts in the world (seriously, try them), make a delicious peanut butter by the way.
So where did all these ‘spicy Thai peanut butter noodle recipes’ that so many food bloggers have been publishing in recent years originate from, if not Thailand?
The cuisines of Malaysia and Indonesia feature peanut satay sauces, and the peanut sauce for my spicy peanut butter noodles recipe was undeniably influenced by the Indonesian peanut sauces or peanut sambals. We were eating all kinds of Southeast Asian cuisines in the mid-late 1980s when we used to frequently meet my uncles for dinner in inner-city Sydney to feast on spreads of Malaysian, Indonesian, Vietnamese, and Thai food.
In The Food of Indonesia: Delicious Recipes from Bali, Java and the Spice Islands written by two Bali-based chefs, a peanut sambal recipe calls for shallots and garlic to be fried, before adding long red chillies, roasted peanuts coarsely grounded in a mortar and pestle, dried shrimp paste, tamarind juice, and sweet Indonesian soy sauce, kecap manis. The chefs recommend using it as a condiment for grilled fish and meats, with tomato and cucumber on the side.
Pearly Kee of Penang, in her Nyonya Pantry cookbook has three peanut satay sauce recipes, although one is made with groundnuts. Kee’s classic satay sauce recipe calls for coconut cream, water, chilli powder, fish sauce, rock sugar, and coarsely ground peanuts, which she boils in a pan, then simmers, and tops with peanuts and… sesame seeds.
Like many Asian cuisines, Penang’s nyonya cuisine is a fusion cuisine, incorporating culinary influences from Malaysia, Thailand, India, and Southern China. The food of Fujian province on China’s southeast coast shares a lot of similarities, ingredients and influences with Southeast Asian cuisines due to a long, shared history of trade and migration.
You’ll find products in Fujian that you traditionally wouldn’t have found in other parts of China, such as fish sauce and shrimp paste. Peanuts and sesame seeds are used in a lot of Fujian dishes, especially as a garnish. There’s even a famous Fujian peanut soup, which is best sampled in Xiamen.
But it’s the capital of the province, Fuzhou, which is said to be the home of a dish of hand-cut boiled bǎn miàn noodles with peanut sauce. A flat, wide noodle, sometimes made with egg, it resembles a wide fettuccini. In Malaysia, these noodles are called pan mein and pan mee.
But perhaps the best-known Fujian peanut butter noodle recipe is from Shaxian, where thick ‘wonton noodles’ are boiled before being combined in a sauce made from dark soy sauce, shallot oil or sesame oil, scallions, and peanut butter. China produces an infinite array of peanut butters, many of which come with sesame seeds.
What distinguishes the Shaxian peanut butter sauce noodles recipe is that chicken bouillon is combined with some of the water in which the noodles were boiled. A small bowl of Shaxian wonton soup is typically served alongside the Shaxian peanut butter sauce noodles. If you’re heading for Fujian, look for signs that say: 沙县扁肉拌面.
The Shaxian and Fuzhou peanut butter sauce noodles are usually garnished with scallions and sesame seeds, and are typically drizzled with chilli oil.
So why do so many food blogs call what’s obviously a Chinese peanut butter sauce noodles recipe, a spicy Thai peanut butter noodles recipe? Sure, you can probably find the dish in Thai-Chinese eateries and in homes, but call it Thai-Chinese then, not Thai. Or simply call it what it is.
Just a few quick tips to making my Southeast Asian-inspired spicy peanut butter noodles recipe, as it really is easy and comes together quickly.
Tips to Making this Spicy Peanut Butter Noodles Recipe
I only have a handful of tips to making this spicy peanut butter noodles recipe as it’s a cinch to make and takes minutes. Two very important tips: take care not to over-cook the sauce and and don’t over-cook the noodles.
Traditionally bǎn miàn, pan mein or pan mee noodles are used with peanut sauce. They’re a flat wide noodle, sometimes made with egg, available fresh or dry. They most closely resemble a wide fettuccini. Many Chinese recipes call for a ‘wonton noodle’, but I prefer a thicker more toothsome noodle.
I’ve used fresh cooked vacuum-packed udon noodles here as I love the chewy texture of udon. Note that they can very quickly over-cook, so follow the instructions on the packet and watch them closely. The udon noodles we buy only require a minute in boiling water. Put a pot of water onto boil for your noodles while you make the sauce, so the water has boiled by the time you’ve finished the sauce.
Use a quality sesame oil and Chinese sesame paste, not the Middle Eastern sesame paste called tahini. Tahini is made from raw sesame seeds and is lighter and creamier, whereas Chinese sesame paste is made from roasted sesame seeds and is darker and has a nuttier taste.
You’ll also want a quality organic peanut butter or natural peanut butter if you can source it, as it won’t thicken as quickly and take on the gluggy texture of the processed peanut butters that contain additives and preservatives. The natural peanut butters enable the sauce to take on a gentle creamy texture that remains that way.
Here in Southeast Asia, it’s easy to find natural peanut butter at the market, supermarket or specialty Chinese stores, however, outside Asia look for it at a health food shop or the health food section of a good supermarket.
Make the peanut butter sauce in a wok – I use a round flat bottomed wok for this dish – as you’re going to toss the noodles into the wok when they’re done. Take care not to let the shallots or garlic burn when you’re frying them. They’ll cook very quickly.
Once you’re done with the sauce, turn off the heat straight away. Take care not to over-cook the sauce, as it thickens very quickly. And if that happens, you’ll need to reduce it with water or sesame oil again, and re-adjust the seasoning, which is a nuisance. And as for the seasoning of the sauce, make sure to try it and adjust the seasoning to suit your taste and we all have different palates.
I like to serve lightly stir-fried Asian greens, such as bok choy, on the side, but condiments and garnishes also satisfy. I like a drizzle of red chilli oil (we’ve got a homemade Szechuan chilli oil recipe here), slices of fresh, long red chillies or a sprinkle of chilli flakes, pan-roasted peanuts, crispy fried shallots, fresh coriander leaves, and lime wedges for a squeeze of lime juice at the end.
To make your own pan-roasted peanuts, heat a tablespoon of neutral cooking oil in one of these adorable little non-stick single-egg pans if you have one (if you don’t, highly recommend them; they’re fantastic for frying perfect eggs), then quickly dry-fry a handful of raw peanuts on high heat for a minute, continuously shaking the pan so they’re constantly turning. They can burn very quickly, so transfer them to a cold dish the second they’ve browned.
You could eat these spicy peanut butter noodles cold, although I personally prefer the noodles warm and recommend dishing them up as soon as they’re ready.
Spicy Peanut Butter Noodles Recipe
- 3 tbsp soybean oil or another neutral cooking oil
- 100 g purple shallots peeled, finely diced
- 2 cloves garlic peeled, finely chopped
- 1 knob of ginger grated
- 1 tbsp sesame oil
- 1 tsp Chinese sesame paste not tahini
- 3 tbsp chilli oil store-bought or home-made; see our recipe in the tips above
- 3 tbsp natural crunchy peanut butter
- 2 tbsp quality fish sauce
- 1 tsp tamarind sauce or liquid from fresh tamarind pulp optional
- 200 g noodles your choice
- 1 red chilli deseeded and finely sliced
- 2 tbsp pan-roasted peanuts
- 2 tbsp crispy fried shallots
- 2 tbsp fresh coriander leaves
- ½ lime chopped into wedges
- 1 bunch of Asian greens stir-fried
- Put a pot of water on to the stove to boil for your noodles.
- In a wok over medium-high, heat the cooking oil and fry the finely diced shallots until soft and translucent for a minute or so, add the finely chopped garlic and fry for a minute until fragrant, then add the grated ginger, combine and fry for 30 seconds or so, then reduce the heat to medium.
- Add the sesame oil, Chinese sesame paste, chilli oil, natural crunchy peanut butter, fish sauce, and optional tamarind sauce if you're using it, and stir to combine well, as the peanut butter breaks down and softens and a sauce forms. Taste and adjust to your palate. Turn the heat to low or, if the sauce has thickened right up, turn the heat off completely.
- To the pot of boiling water, add the noodles and cook until al dente – better to be slightly under-done – then drain the noodles. If you want to loosen up the peanut sauce, stir through more sesame oil or a little water, turn the heat on again to heat up the sauce, then transfer the noodles to the wok while still hot, stirring in the spicy peanut sauce, taking care not to break the noodles.
- Distribute the sauce-covered noodles to bowls, drizzle on a little red chilli oil, and garnish as you like with sliced red chillies, pan-roasted peanuts, crispy fried shallots, and fresh coriander leaves. Serve with lightly stir-fried Asian greens such as bok choy on the side and serve immediately.
Please do let us know in the comments below if you make this spicy peanut butter noodles recipe as we’d love to know how it turns out for you.