Satay Bolognese

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Satay aka sate aka shacha is an enchanting accompaniment to Teoswa dishes, with precise origins as murky as the “sand tea” sauce itself. Not the peanut sauce that comes with Indonesian meat skewers, Teoswa satay is darker, oilier, and funkier, thanks to dried seafood, chilis, and shallots. One hypothesis is that overseas Teoswa laborers returning home brought the sauce with them from Southeast Asia, and that the sauce then evolved to suit local tastes. You may find it as a dipping sauce option at a Chinese hotpot restaurant, or as a tableside condiment if you are lucky to live close to a Teoswa noodle soup restaurant. The most popular brand of satay sauce is Bull Head (of Taiwan), which labels its silver cans “BBQ Sauce.” As this misnomer might suggest, satay is often served alongside meats, especially beef.

The sauce’s deep savoriness and common pairing with beef made me wonder how it would fare in pasta Bolognese, one of the world’s great comfort foods. Turns out the two harmonize extremely well. The resulting sauce looks and initially tastes like a typical ragù Bolognese, but then you feel a slight tingle on your tongue from the chilis and Sichuan pepper, and the hints of coconut and dried shrimp in the satay beckon your mind to warmer climes.

I recommend using fresh flat rice noodles, which can be found unrefrigerated in well-trafficked Asian supermarkets. 2-lb. packs are common, and will feed around 4, depending on how hungry your guests are. The lightness of the slippery rice noodles are a lovely contrast to the substantial ragù, and the flurry of fresh herbs to finish helps balance the sauce’s deeper flavors. If you can’t find fresh rice noodles, substitute dried rice noodles or pasta, depending on personal preference (or mood!). 


Serves 4 with leftover ragù for future enjoyment

Ragù:

  • 2 tbsp cooking oil
  • 3 shallots, minced
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 4 stalks Chinese celery, diced
  • 1 carrot, diced
  • 3 tbsp + satay sauce
  • 1 lb ground beef
  • 1 tbsp Shaoxing rice wine
  • 1 tbsp fish sauce
  • A handful Thai or sweet basil
  • 1 28-oz can whole tomatoes
  • 1 tsp salt
  • white pepper

To Serve:

  • 1 2-lb pack fresh rice noodles
  • 1/2 cup cilantro, chopped
  • 1/2 cup basil, chiffonade
  • 1/4 cup mint, chiffonade
  1. Heat oil in large Dutch oven or pot over medium heat. Add shallots and garlic. Sauté until shallots are translucent. Add celery and carrot. Sauté a few minutes until they begin to soften. Add satay sauce, making sure to evenly coat the aromatics.
  2. Turn heat up to medium-high and add ground beef, breaking up any chunks. Allow the beef to sear, adding salt and a few shakes of white pepper. Sauté until mostly cooked through.
  3. Add Shaoxing rice wine, fish sauce, and basil leaves, stirring to incorporate. Add tomatoes and gently mash them. Reduce heat to low and let simmer for at least 45 minutes (longer is better), lid ajar, stirring occasionally.
  4. Shortly before serving, bring pot of water to boil for noodles. For fresh rice noodles, a quick dip is sufficient to soften and separate the strands. Use chopsticks to gently loosen any noodle clumps in the water, and a slotted spoon or mesh strainer to quickly transfer noodles to serving bowls. For dried noodles, follow package instructions.
  5. Taste bolognese sauce and add additional salt, pepper, fish sauce, or satay to taste.
  6. Serve noodles with a ladle of sauce on top. Garnish with cilantro, basil, and mint.
NoodlesDiana Zheng