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Saturday, April 16, 2011

Southern Expat Boiled Peanuts

There is one delicacy that I eat that most folks from other parts of the country tend to turn their noses up at: Boiled Peanuts. The peanut has been a southern staple since before the Civil War. After "the War" it became even more important to an impoverished and struggling part of the nation. Finally, during the boll weevil crisis George Washington Carver showed southerners how to turn this humble legume into decent profits. By the way, of all the uses for peanuts that Dr. Carver developed he never invented the most common - peanut butter. That's a myth.

If you're from the south, summer is the time for boiled peanuts. That's when we take "green peanuts" which is what fresh peanuts right out of the ground are called, and boil them with salt, water, and sometimes beer. The result has been described by folks from elsewhere variously as "something like beans" and "sort of like edamame." But, to us they taste like boiled peanuts. (Often misunderstood by folks from away as "bowled peanuts.")

They also happen to be one of the few southern delicacies that have not received "makeovers" by celebrity chefs (My heart weeps for what New York chefs do to fried chicken.) There are the transplants who have to "cajun" up everything with too many spices but I just pass right by those poseurs to get to the real deal. I suppose one reason they've managed to dodge the "fusion" bullet is because peanuts aren't very fancy. Boiled peanuts are a little messy to eat. You tend to get salt water on yourself and there are all those hulls to deal with. (Note: a plastic grocery bag works great to catch discarded hulls if you're inside.)

My last summer in the south I didn't eat very many peanuts (in the south "peanuts" is assumed to mean "boiled." "Roasted Peanuts" mean any other type of dry nut.) I'd just had my transplant and my appetite was still very strange. Many things I formerly liked I no longer had much taste for and things I never cared much about suddenly seemed quite good. At any rate, I only had peanuts a few times that summer and I regret it because now my appetite has normalized and I'm out west in Arizona where a green peanut is as rare as sanity in the legislature. In short, look high and low but you ain't gonna find it.

When my brother lived in California in the 70's and 80's,  I heard tales of Southern Expats using crock pots and long soaking times to reconstitute "raw peanuts" and use them for boiling. Raw peanuts are peanuts that are uncooked but have been dried for storage and shipping. He never had much use for the techniques because each summer when I would arrive from South Carolina a bushel or two of green peanuts would be part of my baggage.

Still, I wondered, would it work? How would they compare to fresh green peanuts? Intrigued and spurred on by my review copy of Quick-Fix Southern, I decided to try two variations. I ordered a 5-lb. bag of raw Jumbo Virginia peanuts (my favorite for boiling) from Nutsonline.com and got to work.

My first trial was the slow cooker method. It's simple enough, you put the peanuts, water, a little oil, and salt in your slow cooker, set it to high and stand back for 18-20 hours. The result? Eh, I found the peanuts too dark in color with far too strong a salt taste from the slow cooking. They reminded me of the sub-par peanuts you find in those horrible slow cookers in convenience stores in the south. C-minus grade.

My second trial was to soak the peanuts in brine with a little peanut oil for 24-36 hours. Then I boiled them on the stove for 4-6 hours as I normally would if making boiled peanuts. This result was much better. The peanuts didn't darken quite as much and they retained a better texture during the process. They also didn't soak up as much salt so I could better control the flavor. B grade.

Neither method measures up to using fresh green peanuts right from the grocery store or farmer's market, nor do they stand up to some of the best boiled peanuts in the world at Dean Wise's roadside stand on Highway 76 between Newberry and Prosperity, South Carolina. Dean produces some of the tastiest peanuts in the world and I miss going by there! But, if you're an expat like me and you are craving some boiled peanuts this is one way to at least satiate the addiction without having to buy a plane ticket.

Recipe: Southern Expat Boiled Peanuts

Summary: A method of creating boiled peanuts without the use of fresh green peanuts!

Ingredients

  • 4-6 cups raw peanuts in shell
  • 1/2 - 1 cup salt (to taste)
  • 1 tbs. peanut oil
  • 5-8 cups water

Instructions

  1. Place the raw peanuts in a large pot. Combine salt and peanut oil with 2 cups of water and pour over peanuts in pot. Pour in enough water to cover peanuts. Cover pot and let stand for 24-36 hours so raw peanuts will absorb the water and oil and rehydrate.
  2. Place pot on stove and bring to a boil. Boil covered for 4-6 hours or until peanuts are desired consistency. (I like mine a little al dente so cook them about 3-4 hours.) Add more salt if necessary to achieve desired saltiness. When done, strain and serve warm with ice cold beer or iced tea.

Quick Notes

For extra flavor add a bottle of beer to the water about 1 hour before peanuts are done.
None of these methods of using raw peanuts will give exactly the same result as fresh green peanuts. However, for those of us from the South who cannot get green peanuts in the Summer, this makes a handy substitute to satiate the craving.

Variations

This can also be done using a slow cooker by combining peanuts and other ingredients then immediately cooking on "high" for 18-20 hours. Add more water as necessary. There's no need for the soak beforehand. However, this tends to produce boiled peanuts that are very dark in color and sometime overly salty. I prefer the other method.

Prep time: 24 hours
Cook time: 6 hours
Total time: 30 hours
Number of servings (yield): 6 cups
Meal type: snack
Culinary tradition: USA (Southern)
Copyright © Buck Bannister & Sugar Pies.
Recipe by Buck Bannister.


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