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Growing up in Northern Illinois to a family of transplanted Southerners had its rewards, not least of which was an amazing culinary tradition. While my friends were eating casseroles for dinner, I was eating ham with red-eye gravy and grits for breakfast, bean soup for lunch and fried catfish with mustard greens and cornbread for dinner. I had it good for a yankee.
My mother's family still lived in the South and every summer we would all pack into the car and spend three weeks visiting relatives in Kentucky, South Carolina, Louisiana, Georgia and Florida. Oh how I looked forward to those drives. All politics aside, the South is a place of great beauty. The flatness of Northern Illinois would gradually give way to rolling hills and thick forests. By the time we entered Kentucky we were in another world. Here we would ditch the freeway and get on secondary roads to enjoy the scenery and the unexpected moments only a leisurely road trip can bring.
As we got deeper into Tennessee, our anticipation would begin to grow. Everyone wanted to be the first to spot it, that necessary accompaniment to any Southern car adventure. We were on the hunt for the first boiled peanut stand. The excitement to get out of the car would have me and my brother coming out of our hair.
The boiled peanut. That charmingly, disarmingly great egalitarian of a Southern snack is loved by every social strata. From late spring to early fall, all through a large swath of the South, up spring roadside vendors cooking their peanuts in everything ranging from 50 gallon drums over a fire pit to shiny vats with dancing peanuts painted on them.
For the uninitiated, it is a little hard to describe how vastly different boiled peanuts are from their roasted counterparts. At their simplest, they are boiled slowly for hours in salted water. When they are finished cooking, the shells become pliable and the salty water penetrates through. Consequently, when you open them, they come with the risk that they will squirt you or your companion in the eye with peanut brine. It's a hazard that people live with for the love of the nut. Once the danger is over and your peanut is exposed, you slurp it out of the shell with whatever juice remains. Boiled peanuts are the oysters of the legumes. A properly cooked goober should be soft and salty, leaving you to eat them like the peanut addict you have become until the drive is over, or the football game is over, or you have run out of beer.
About this time every year, I become deeply nostalgic for them. It took me several years living in San Francisco before I realized that I had easy access to all the raw peanuts I could want. You do too, if you live anywhere with a sizable enough Asian population. Raw peanuts are used in a lot of Asian cuisines and you will find them when in season. And so yesterday, I stopped by the favored market of our large Filipino community and picked up my pound of peanuts. They have been bubbling away on my stove since early afternoon.
A word about a boiled peanut controversy that inevitably comes up by aficianados. Many would tell you that the only proper peanut to use is a green peanut. That is to say freshly harvested and retaining 35% - 50% of their moisture content. Dried raw peanuts are dried to 10% of their moisture. Green peanuts can sometimes be found outside of the South, but they spoil relatively quickly making them much harder to come by. I can attest that using raw peanuts is just fine. The trick is to soak them overnight.
If you have never had these ugly but marvelous treats I urge you to give them a try. While it's true that there are those out there who have tried them and found them disgusting, I have made many more converts than enemies to them. They couldn't be simpler to make. Here's the recipe.
1 pound of raw or green peanuts, preferably Valencia.There are a lot of recipe variations out there. Some people use Old Bay or cayenne. It's up to you. Get creative.
Salt to taste. I use 1/4 cup of Kosher salt.
Boil until soft, at least 4 hours.
My peanuts are done now and I will be down there in comments, typing away with my juicy peanut fingers, trying my best to win you over to the boiled side.
Now on to Tops!