Today I decided to finally (after about 7 months of waiting) boil a bag of raw peanuts I bought while visiting family in Southern Georgia last summer. I currently live in Muncie, Indiana and nothing really comes close to quenching my thirst for these little tasty morsels. These ever so slightly salty hot pockets, when popped with your thumbs and forefingers at the seam, reveal two or three (four if you’re lucky) perfectly aligned and tightly nestled burgundy beans. Non-Southerners halt! You do not dive in to pluck them with your fingers from their soggy shells. Rather, lift up the bean-filled half-shell to your mouth and bite them out. If you have a straggler, use your empty shell half to scoop it out into your mouth. Most often you’ll find these on the side of the road or at a baseball game, so toss your empty shells into the gaps of the metal bleachers below or out your window. My tactic is to toss my empty shells back into the group so that finding an uneaten one increasingly becomes more like a scavenger hunt. Lick your fingers and reach back again into the warm damp brown bag for another.
Midwesterners and New Englanders who currently surround me do not know what they are missing. I once found these on a menu at a hipster pizza joint in Louisville and ordered for the table – me, a Cape Codder, and two Californians.
“What does it taste like?”
Me: “A boiled peanut. Kind of like Southern edamame.”
“Ah, I love edamame.”
They all tried them and politely never finished excavating their sample, forcing me to intake about 100 salty peanuts by myself. I mean, when it comes to boiled peanuts, there is a “me” in team. I actually think that boiled peanuts are even tastier (and way unhealthier) than edamame. They’re the Pringles of earthen snacks.
And, since it’s Black History Month, boiled peanuts are a way to learn more about the transnational backstories of America’s food culture. As summed up here at the National Peanut Board, boiled peanuts first came to America via enslaved Africans who also brought the practice to South America and the Caribbean. Wikipedia offers some quick insight into their continued popularity throughout Asia – especially Taiwan – as street snacks.
So last night I finally decided to boil up a batch of peanuts. Having never done this myself, I consulted Alton Brown’s recipe. About an hour and a half into their 4-hour boil, I smelled home: It was the scent of convincing my parents to give me $4 so I could pass the time while watching my sister strike out the batters in another slow-pitch softball game. Delish.
Alton Brown’s recipe is really easy and adaptable:
- Rinse and soak the peanut shells in water for 30 minutes (they float so try and weigh them down so you can get the most amount of dirt off them)
- Rinse again after soaking and toss into a pot
- Generously cover with water (think 1 part peanuts, 1.5 parts water? Or enough water that you’ll be able to boil them for 4 hours and they won’t burn to the bottom)
- Add salt (I’d begin with at least 1/3 cup of salt and about 2-3 hours in, pop one open and taste to see if you need more salt. Feel free to keep tasting every 45 minutes to determine your preferred texture.)
- Boil for 1-5 hours depending on their freshness. Don’t run out of water and burn your nuts.
This food is very forgiving. I can’t honestly recall having had peanuts boiled too long, or peanuts that were too salty. [The worst boiled peanuts I can recall tasted as if they had been cooked the day prior and reboiled. And I probably still ate those. I wouldn’t suggest buying them at the store in cans or from the frozen aisle.]
You can add other flavors to the pot too, like bouillon, Worcestershire sauce, crab boil seasoning, Maggie’s, spice it up Sichuan style, or keep it simple with sea salt. On a low-salt diet? Try it without – the salt doesn’t impact the texture.
Three cultural fusion boiled peanut recipes I’m looking forward to trying are Boiled Peanut Hummus by Slim Pickin’s Kitchen, Chinese-Style Boiled Peanuts by Umami Holiday, or Pat’s Spicy Garlic Hawaiian Boiled Peanuts. Share your boiled peanut memories and recipes with me!