Tuesday, December 13, 2011

The South's Olive

They grow in sandy soil. While they can be eaten raw, more often than not, they are processed prior to ingestion. They can be turned into paste and smeared on bread. They can be pressed to get an oil suitable for nearly any cooking or beauty purpose. They can relax in a salty brine producing an excellent snack. I am speaking of course of the humble giant that is the peanut.

I love peanuts, always have, always will. I still eat peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, unironically. I carry a year's supply of Reese's Peanut Butter Cups on any boat trip I take, just in case. I enjoy snacking on crunchy, salty peanuts while sipping a cold beer or rum drink. Yet, all of those forms take a back seat to boiled peanuts.

I first encountered boiled peanuts in college when classmates from South Carolina would truck up tubs filled with the brown pods following breaks in classes. Eating a boiled peanut is not at all dissimilar to eating crawfish. First, you place the pod in between your teeth and press gently. If you do it correctly, a tiny slit will rupture, with a gentle inhale your mouth will flood with saltwater. Then pull the peanut from your mouth, peel off the shell and eat the one, two, or three peanuts inside. Lather, rinse, and repeat. You can do this for hours on end, making it a great source of exercise.

The best boiled peanuts come from "green" peanuts which means they were grown using solar energy and transported via a Toyota Prius. They are hard to find down here, so I tend to use raw peanuts when making boiled peanuts. All raw means is the peanuts have been dried. I've tried various techniques of boiling peanuts- overnight soaking, boiling rapidly in heavily salted water, salting after boiling, steeping, and on and on - with differing levels of success. But one day a few weeks ago, the crock pot once again proved its utility. 

Fill a crock pot with peanuts about three-fourths of the way up. Then pour in some cold water. Some peanuts will float on top, don't worry as they will sink eventually. Then dump in a 1/4 cup of salt - you can reseason later anyway. Turn the crock pot on low and go to work. When you come home, stir the pot, and raise heat to high. After another 30 minutes, all of the peanuts should have sunk to the bottom. Turn off heat and let peanuts steep for an hour. Taste. They should be salty enough, but if not, add more salt. They should be soft, but not mushy. You can eat them warm, but for some perverse reason, I prefer cold boiled peanuts. They are even better with the following martini.

A Southern Dirty Martini

A salted olive and a boiled peanut have much in common both in flavor and texture. It is highly probable that the entire idea of adding olives to a martini came about when some inebriated businessmen decided to add the olives which were served as snacks with his martini to his martini. Last year, Jake pointed out his favorite way of drinking martinis is with chilled boiled peanuts. So why use olives from Greece or Spain to season your martini, when a peanut will do? Ice in a glass, add four parts gin and one and a half parts of vermouth. Grab two cold boiled peanuts and squeeze the juice into the glass. Stir with a long handled spoon and then strain into a chilled glass or serve on the rocks. Add three or four shelled boiled peanuts.

What results is a typical martini with a salty, slightly nutty edge - imagine your crazy Uncle Leo distilled into a cocktail. Plus, and trust me on this, a gin soaked boiled peanut is the best way to enjoy the South's olive. 

1 comment:

Mary Griggs said...

I use the crock pot method as well but I also put in a tablespoon or so of Zatarain's Crab & Shrimp Boil for a little extra flavor.