Vietnamese Sate Sauce (Sốt Sa tế) is a spicy red sauce which is an excellent addition to many dishes, especially for grilling and stir-frying.
Don’t confuse Vietnamese sate sauce with satay sauce which contains peanuts. Sa tế is spicy and flavorful, and it is made from familiar Vietnamese aromatics and chili peppers. You can think of it like Vietnamese chili oil or chili sauce. We like to use it when grilling food like in this grilled squid recipe, grilled king oyster mushrooms recipe, or add just a bit to seafood fried rice (such as crab fried rice and scallop fried rice).
Also, don’t confuse it with sa tế for bun bo Hue (Vietnamese spicy beef noodle soup). Yes, you can add this sauce to any noodle soups for more heat and flavors, but it is not the same sa tế required for bun bo Hue.
Ingredients for Sate Sauce
Here are the ingredients for a full version sate sauce (some of them are optional though, in case you can’t find them at your Asian grocery stores).
🌶 Chili peppers: to make this sauce, you will need to use two types of chilies. One is the spicy bird’s-eye chili and the other one is the non-spicy or very mild red chili pepper. Here I use red banana peppers (ớt sừng), but I think you can use other chili varieties as long as they are red and not spicy or just mildly spicy.
Why two types of chilies? If you use 100% bird’s-eye chili, your sate sauce will be way too hot, and you may not be able to use much of it to flavor your dishes.
🧄 Aromatics: you will need a lot of lemongrass, shallots, garlic and galangal (optional). If you don’t see galangal at your Asian grocery places, it is fine to omit it since the amount required is small compared to other aromatics.
🧂Seasonings and oil: you will also need neutral-flavored cooking oil, soy sauce, salt, and sugar. I also use dried shrimps (optional) which will add depth to the sauce and reduce the amount of sugar required. If you can’t find it, don’t worry, and just add a bit more sugar to taste.
All the chilies and aromatics (as well as dried shrimps, if using) need to be coarsely chopped and then processed into quite fine pieces in a food chopper.
I like to process the lemongrass with the dried shrimps, and the chilies with the remaining aromatics, to make it convenient for cooking. Be careful, we don’t want to process them into paste.
How to Make Vietnamese Sate Sauce
Once all the ingredients have been prepared, the rest is pretty easy. First thing to pay attention here: only use medium heat because if the heat is too high, it may burn the aromatics and affect the colors of the chilis. As a result, the sate sauce may not turn out with a beautiful deep red color.
1️⃣ Heat the oil and add the processed lemongrass and dried shrimps. Cook until the lemongrass reduces in size and takes on just a bit of color, then add the chilies and remaining aromatics. This first part of cooking may take up to 30 minutes.
2️⃣ Once all ingredients have softened, the sauce looks red and you can smell it, add the seasonings. Cook for almost another 10 minutes to let all flavors combine and the sauce has a very rich color.
As long as you use medium heat, you don’t really need to watch the process closely. Just check and give it a stir from time to time.
Once the sauce is cool completely, store it in a tightly sealed jar and it can last for weeks in the refrigerator. Please find the list of ingredients and instructions in the recipe card below. Here are some recipes using this Vietnamese sate sauce:
I’d love to hear what you think about the dish, so please feel free to leave a comment and a rating if you have tried it. New recipes are added every week so let’s connect on Facebook, Youtube, Pinterest and Instagram for the latest updates. You can find my collection of Vietnamese recipes here.
Vietnamese Sate Sauce (Sốt Sa tế)
- 4-5 medium or large lemongrass stalks, white and very light green parts only, roughly chopped (60g/2oz, or 3/4 cup chopped)
- 2 tablespoons roughly chopped dried shrimp, optional (15g/0.5oz)
- 2 tablespoons roughly chopped shallots (25g/0.9oz)
- 1 tablespoon roughly chopped garlic (10g/0.4oz)
- 2 teaspoons roughly chopped galangal, optional (10-15g/0.4-0.5oz)
- 3 small or medium bird's-eye chilies, seeds removed
- 6 red banana peppers, or any non/mildly spicy red peppers, seeds removed (120g/4oz)
- 3/4 cup neutral-flavored cooking oil (180ml)
- 1 teaspoon sugar (to taste)
- 1 teaspoon salt (to taste)
- 2 teaspoons soy sauce (to taste)
- Place lemongrass and dried shrimps (if using) in a food chopper (or small food processor) and process into quite fine pieces. Transfer to a bowl and set aside.
- Place shallots, garlic, galangal and both types of chilies in the food chopper (or food processor) and also process into quite fine pieces. Be careful not to process into a paste. Transfer to a bowl and set aside.
- Heat oil over medium heat in a pot. Then add the processed lemongrass and dried shrimps. Cook for 7-8 minutes, stirring occasionally, until lemongrass has reduced in volume and taken on just a bit of color.
- Add the processed shallots, garlic, galangal and chilies to the pot. Cook for about 20 minutes, stirring occasionally, until all ingredients have softened, the sauce looks red and you can smell it. You may need to reduce the heat slightly if needed.
- Add salt, sugar and soy sauce and continue to cook for another 8-10 minutes to let all flavors combine and the sauce has a very rich color. Adjust seasonings to taste.
- Transfer the sauce to a bowl or container and let it cool completely. Store it in an airtight container in the refrigerator and it can last for weeks.