Boiled Raw Peanuts

7 09 2009
Boiled Raw Peanuts

Boiled Raw Peanuts

The time has come, one of the stands at my local farmers market has raw peanuts. Straight from the ground uncooked, un-dried, unsalted, un-roasted and that means boiled peanuts time: the right way.  The one women at the stand knows us by now because we’ve been going there for months and every time she would remind us when the raw peanuts were coming: September.  Technically it was the last weekend of August when they showed up and when I found them I let out an entirely too audible excited noise. 

Now that we have raw peanuts the important question is what do they taste like raw? The answer? A bean. Which makes some sense when folks reminded me that in fact peanuts are legumes and technically are a bean. Lets look closer:

Raw Peanuts: Not the pink coloration and the thick membrane around the halved bean/nut

Raw Peanuts: Not the pink coloration and the thick membrane around the halved bean/nut

The first thing about my raw peanuts is that there was some pink coloration around the nuts themselves. They are quite soft (for a peanut) but still firm but with a more spongy texture: they give a little before they break.  Actually most of that give I think is in the outer membrane on the peanut. If you look at the nut I cut in half you can see that there is a membrane that runs around it. I think this is what ends up as the brown skin we all recognize in roasted peanuts but here it is thick, spongy, and white.  You can sort of see the white inside of the shell in the picture which is also the same spongy texture.  In some of the finished boiled peanuts the nuts were very small and most of the shell was taken up by that white spongy membrane filled with water making a small nest for the tiny nut.  I tried to find an example of this in the before peanuts but couldn’t. To me the inside of the nut smelled like green bean. To some people it smelled more like dirt.  Overall the texture and taste weren’t even in the ballpark of what I thought a raw peanut would taste like. In fact it didn’t taste at all like a peanut, not even a hint, and much more like a tradition legume.  I actually went on a small mission to share the experience of a completely raw peanut with as many people as I could; not because they tasted good or even bad really but just that it was SO different that no one would expect it.  Most folks were a bit skeptical at first but either ended up liking them or at the very least being extremely surprised and fascinated with the taste and texture of a raw peanut.  This experience really, really reminded me how far down the line we are in terms of process, food, and when we eat it.  I had no idea this is why we started dry roasting them and it was really interesting to find that out.

Not back to the boiling.  My uncle was the one who got me hooked on boiled peanuts and is also my mentor in my apprenticeship to cook them.  I emailed him right away asking for his most prized and coveted cooking secret: the crock pot “recipe.” But I was impatient and started with a response.  I found a site online that suggested the best amount of salt was 1/2 cup for each batch. So I went ahead and divided my peanuts up into two batches (because they wouldn’t all fit in my crock pot at once), added 1 to the crock pot, covered them with water, added the 1/2 cup of salt, and turned it on low.   They were off!

Then my uncle emailed me back and saved the day with his mentorship.  He recommended the perfect ratio of 1/4 cup of kosher salt to 7 cups of water.  I found out that my 1/2 cup of table salt equated to 1 full cup of kosher salt.  I was at the sous chef’s place at the time so we made a stop at home and swapped out the brine with the mentor’s amounts.  Salty disaster averted!

The third most important aspect to boiled peanuts is time.  How long do you boil them for? On the stove I did it fora few hours.  My uncle says he likes them for 2.5 days in the slow cooker and if he was patient he would have gone for 3.5 days.  My goal was to match his patience and go beyond: 3.5 days.  The trick to overcome the temptation was to leave the house and not try any along the way for fear of being tempted.  I eventually made it to 3.17 days but I found out that was to long.

Through the cooking processes I found out that even on low my crock pot keeps the water boiling which also keeps the peanuts floating.  The later is important because I found out that the sign of boiled peanuts being boiled is that they sink in the brine.  When the cooking process itself is keeping them floating it doesn’t help to gauge the process very well.  So twice I turned my crock pot to warm instead of low once to make sure they weren’t overcooking.  And of course I kept track of the cooking schedule:

Day Time Setting
Sunday 2:20 pm Low
  5:10 pm Re-Brined
Monday 10:50 pm Warm
Tuesday 8:00 am Low
  9:45 pm Warm
Wednesday 7:45 am Low
  5:30 pm Off

At 5:30 pm I turned off the crock pot and let them for some period of time in the crock pot cooling off.  This was mostly because I didn’t want to put them in the fridge until I ate them so I think I let them for a few hours. And how were they? Mushy.  The taste was saltier than I like them and the peanuts varied between holding together when you opened their shell or falling apart into strands.  They were good but not the addiction I have experienced with past batches of boiled peanuts.  So I emailed my uncle (actually before they were done) asking about how he defined done boiled peanuts.  Because I was using his guidance and I know what I like in a boiled peanut but not exactly sure the end goal of his recipe was.

I got my answer: they are boiled when they sink and then the mushy level is up to taste.  He defined his personal taste which he confided in me so to respect his privacy I shall not share it for it is of a personal nature.  However,  it became clear to me that I was fixed to much on the time of the first batch and not so much on the end goal BUT this is a learning experience.  I suspect three differences that may have caused the difference in cooking times:

  1. Freshness of the Peanuts – My peanuts were still wet and very moist since they were just picked this week out of the ground on  the other side of the state.  I suspect that my uncles raw peanuts have farther to go his home and even if they don’t roast or dry them in a heater they probably still lose some of their moisture en route.  The decrease in moisture translates to longer cooking times for him and inversely my more moist peanuts required less cooking time for the hot, salty water to permeate and cook my peanuts.
  2. Slow Cooker Temperature – My slow cooker has water boiling even on the low setting which honestly doesn’t seem right but that is how it is.  I suspect my uncle’s slow cooker is less hot and therefore can cook longer with less “cooking” action happening.
  3. The Boiled Peanut Vision – After reading my uncles vision of the perfect boiled peanut I suspect he *may* like them mushier than me BUT using his own definition I still like boiled peanuts (I was concerned the level I like them may not truly qualify).  If that is true than he would probably want to cook them longer than me.

Wednesday morning I took some early to work and changed from the raw peanut preacher to the boiled peanut preacher. Five out of the seven people who I let try them actually liked them! And one wants to make her own.  I’m honestly surprised at how many folks liked them on their first try.  And one person even missed them from being in Thailand where they evidential boil them just in water (which explains me finding them at our Asian grocery store this past year).  To me they were good but they still had more potential.

So batch #2 got underway! I used the same salt:water:peanut ratio but this time they only cooked on low in the crock pot for about 20 hours or so. And the results? Addiction city!!!! They were plump, moist, boiled, and just right.  I turned the crock pot to warm when I got home from work, left for a few hours, and came back to make sure that they had sunk and were done. Boy were they.   Even the sous chef says they are starting to grow on her with this second batch.

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