I love peanut satay. Or rather, I thought I did. When we were kids, my parents used to make ‘chicken with peanut sauce’ all the time. Then as I grew up, I discovered the hard way that most commercial and restaurant peanut sauces have chilli in them. I’m terrible with spicy foods, so I stayed away. A few months ago, a friend convinced me to taste the massaman curry he had ordered from our local Thai shop. He promised me it wasn’t too spicy, so I had a couple mouthfuls. It was hot, but the peanut satay flavour was so good. I could only manage a tiny bit before the spices overcame me, but I decided that if I had a taste here and there, maybe I’d slowly extend my spice tolerance. The next day I felt a little off colour, but didn’t think much of it – after all, we’d had a late night. Our friend was kind enough to leave the leftovers in our fridge, so I had a little more with my lunch. Once again, just a few mouthfuls, mixed with rice to tone down the chilli influence. Probably in total a teaspoon of actual sauce. Less than an hour later, I was horribly ill. Fever, nausea, cramps, vomiting – the works.
When it became clear I was suffering more than indigestion, I rang Marshy at work and asked him to come home and help me with the kids. I explained the massaman curry was the only thing out of the ordinary that I had eaten, and asked if spicy food was likely to make someone sick, because after all it was only peanuts and chillies, right? He was silent for a minute and said, “You know, I didn’t think about this yesterday, but most Thai curries are made from shrimp paste. A lot of them have oyster sauce, too.” I froze. I’m allergic – properly allergic – to shellfish. “Do you think a massaman curry would have those things?” I asked, horrified. He wasn’t sure, so I hung up and hit Google straight away. Sure enough, every recipe I could find for a massaman curry had, at the very least, either shrimp paste, or oyster sauce, or fish sauce, or a combination of the above. It seemed reasonable to assume that the curry in the fridge did, too. In a strange case of irony, the only thing that had saved me from a trip to hospital was that the curry had been so spicy (for me, anyway) that I had only been able to eat tiny amounts. Three days went by before I started to feel better, but I spent that three days thanking my lucky stars that I’d only eaten a teaspoon’s worth of sauce.
Between chillies and shellfish, was I doomed to never enjoy a peanut satay? Surely there must be a way. I filed the issue into the back of my brain, where my little To-Do list sits and simmers away whilst I’m getting on with my daily life. I researched recipes. I made notes. I frowned and humphed every time we ordered Thai, glaring at the offending dishes on the menu (which is pretty much everything except for fried rice and Pad See Ew) as though that would somehow magically cure my allergy. Over time the cogs of my mind turned and I checked on my notes and I wrote up a recipe for my own peanut satay. It was initially made to be served as a sauce with rice and such, but it reheated well and was delicious over my steak the next night. The sauce was also fantastic for dipping things like rice paper rolls and even just rice crackers into, cold or warmed. So, given I was pretty pleased with the outcome, I decided it was only fair to share. After all, I can’t be the only one who was amazed that people put baby prawns into peanut sauce, right?
You can find the recipe here, along with pictures and notes and all those other sorts of cookbookery type things. In the meantime, I’m going to heat up some of that leftover sauce and dip stuff in it. Or maybe just eat it with a spoon – I’m not that fussy.
How about you? Do you have a meal you love that allergies prevent you from eating? How do you overcome it?