In Praise of Peanut Butter

By Beacon Staff

I once freaked out a food writer for a major metropolitan newspaper by including peanut butter and jelly sandwiches on my “last meal on death row” menu. My answer to this macabre question became the stuff of legend in that city because of my reputation for preparing high-end, very pricey meals.

According to my mother, peanut butter and jelly is about the only thing I ate until I was 14 years old (along with a packaged snack called Tasty-Kake Butterscotch Krimpets, mass-produced at the Tasty-Baking Company in Philadelphia).

After all these years I have not lost my taste for peanut butter and I have been known to use it in some of my recipes. In fact, many chefs around the world use it to make peanut sauces for Chinese and Thai dishes. I’ll show you how at the end of this piece.

As I love peanut butter, there are cultures that abhor the taste – even the thought – of peanut butter. I spent some time in Sweden in my youth and found that Swedish kids (at least the ones I hung out with) actually gagged at the mere mention of peanut butter. In return, I used to feel the same way about one of the things that made their mouths water: eel.

The rest of this column will not be about which name brand peanut butter is the best. Frankly, the one you make yourself in your food processor is pretty darn good. It has exactly one ingredient. But you have to eat it rather quickly since it has no preservatives.

I truly regret that people who are allergic to peanuts cannot eat one of the most perfect foods there is. The oil from the peanut is naturally polyunsaturated. It’s one of the best fats to cook with because it has a higher smoke point than most other fats, so it doesn’t burn as easily. It also can impart a special quality of flavor and crispness to foods fried in it.

Why have I used my precious 350 words this week to write about peanut butter? Because every chef worth his or her salt loves perfection.

Chicken Satay with Peanut Sauce

1 cup plain yogurt
1 tsp. ginger, grated
1 tsp. garlic, minced
1 Tbsp. curry powder
1 ½ pounds chicken breasts, boneless and skinless, cut into strips
1 cup smooth peanut butter
¼ cup low sodium soy sauce
2 tsp. red chile paste or Thai red curry paste*
2 Tbsp. dark brown sugar
2 limes, juiced
½ cup hot water
¼ cup chopped peanuts
* Available in the Asian food section of your supermarket.

Soak wooden skewers in water for at least an hour.

Combine the yogurt, ginger, garlic and curry powder in a shallow mixing bowl. Stir to combine. Place the chicken strips in the yogurt marinade and gently toss until well coated. Cover and let the chicken marinate in the refrigerator for at least two hours.

Thread the chicken pieces onto the soaked skewers, working the skewer in and out of the meat, down the middle of the piece so that it stays in place during grilling. Grill the chicken satays for three to five minutes on each side until nicely seared and cooked through. Serve the satays on a platter lined with lettuce leaves and cilantro accompanied by the peanut sauce.

To make the peanut sauce, combine the peanut butter, soy sauce, red chile paste, brown sugar and lime juice in a food processor or blender. Puree to combine. While the motor is running, drizzle in the hot water to thin out the sauce. You may not need all of the water. Pour the sauce into a serving pitcher and garnish with the chopped peanuts.