The Mysterious Boiled Peanut
Growing up in Sunny Florida was great. It came with blistering summer days punctuated with hellish thunderstorms that started promptly at 2pm each afternoon and lasted between twenty minutes and a week.
Some of my fondest childhood memories from growing up in the Sunshine State involved the many boiled peanut stands that could be found on the side of country roads. These peanut vendors were business savvy and knew that the three key elements of a successful business were location, location, and location. You could find them set up on roadsides that lead to beaches, springs, rivers and of course, Gator football games.
There is a slim chance that you, gentle reader, are not familiar with boiled peanuts. You may have heard of them but there is still a chance you’ve never eaten one yourself. You poor, poor thing… bless your heart. I am here to help educate you on the glory of this manna from the south.
First, lets cover pronunciation. The vast majority of Southerners call this delicacy, a /bole-d/ peanut. They say it the way a standard English speaker might refer to peanuts that have been placed in a bowl; they have been /bowl-ed/. The southern pronunciation also sounds like darkened text or describing someones unreserved nature: bold.
My mother was a genuine, Yankee carpetbagger. As a young adult she left Wisconsin, traveled to Florida, met my father, and started a family. She didn’t bring much with her when she emigrated from way above the Mason-Dixon line. She had some clothing, a Volkswagen Karmann Ghia, and a hilarious Wisconsinite accent. Although from her perspective she spoke perfect English and had moved to a place where the entire population had conspired to destroy her native tongue.
While my friends wanted to go play in the creek near our home she would only allow me to visit the crick. While my friends might have been enjoying an icy bottle of Coke she would insist that what they were drinking was called pop. And no, I was not allowed to have one. And so on, and so on…
If my Mom were with us today she would be proud that her son still pronounces pecans correctly (/pa-cons/ not /pee-cans/ of course). She would also be glad to know that I only use the words ya’ll or ain’t when I am being ironic or buying supplies at a hardware store. And I can only assume she is somewhere smiling every time she hears me correctly use the diphthong in the word boiled (as in /boy-ald/).
The truth of the matter is, you can say boiled peanut however you want as long as you eat them. I love peanuts in all their delicious forms, thank you very much George Washington Carver, but I think boiled is how they were meant to be eaten. When purchased from a roadside stand they are ladled out of a large steamy cauldron that was usually a beer keg in a former life. This cauldron is filled with brine and peanuts simmering away above an LP flame. The salty, wet, hot peanuts are poured into a cup or a plastic bag and usually come with a second bag for the leftover shells. This second bag is for people that don’t know that country roads are a perfect place to drive with the windows down for easy, biodegradable shell tossing.
For much of my life I was under the impression that making boiled peanuts was akin to smelting iron ore and performing a kidney transplant operation. “Thank Carver for these boiled peanut artisans,” I used to think as I merged with traffic, steering with my knees and tossing shells out the open window. I wasn’t sure how their black magic worked but I was glad to pay for the product of their secret recipes which surely had been handed down orally over countless generations.
Imagine my surprise when I discovered that any yahoo with peanuts, salt, water, and heat could make this gift from the goober gods. As it happens, to make boiled peanuts you take peanuts and you BOIL them! I know this sounds complicated so I am going to share this highly technical recipe and even include some pictures that help keep you on track during the convoluted process.
Get a bag of RAW peanuts. If you have access to raw, green peanuts from a farmer these are great, but generally speaking you will be buying regular raw peanuts which were harvested and allowed to safely dry. You will also need salt, water, and something to boil it all in. The crock pot is the best for this job because you will want these to cook overnight.
Pour the peanuts in the crock pot. You can cook 1 to 3 pounds in a standard crock pot. Just don’t fill the crock pot to the top with peanuts. Half to 3/4 full is best because you’ll be adding water soon and peanuts float.
Next you make the brine and decide if you want to be creative. The standard mixture is 2 tablespoons per quart. You can mix a 1/2 cup of salt with a gallon of water if you want but when I use the crock pot, I simply make a quart at a time. This is also when I decide if I want to ‘fancy-up’ my peanuts. Garlic cloves, red pepper flakes, habaneros, and wasabi are all options to add if you want to show off your gourmet skills. However, for your first time I suggest sticking to brine. Pour in a quart at a time until the water and peanuts are an inch or two from the top. Some peanuts will be floating above the water level, but that will change as they become saturated.
Now you cook them. This takes a while and requires lots of taste testing when you are new. You can put the heat on high for several hours or you could put it on low for much longer. I often start mine in the evening on high, drop them to low while I’m snoring, and take some to work the next day leaving the rest to simmer on low heat. They are hard to overcook and they are hard IF you undercook them. This is why taste testing is so important when you are new to the game.
*Edit- sometimes low heat isn’t enough to finish cooking overnight- you can keep it on high heat or cook for longer- whichever is safer in your situation. SAFETY FIRST!
As the water boils away you will need to add more water to the crock pot. I suggest adding fresh water because all the salt you added originally is still in the brine.
A perfect peanut should be hot. You should pick it up and use your front teeth to crack the shell bilaterally down the seam while simultaneously sucking the delicious brine into your mouth. Then you’ll use your fingers to pull the two halves apart. Finally, use your teeth, lips and tongue in an obscene fashion to retrieve all the salty, soft peanut flesh from the shell.
I’ll leave you with the most important part of the process. When you serve these and people begin to fawn over your boiled peanuts and sing songs of your glory- DO NOT TELL THEM IT IS EASY! It is your job to act really tired but proud, and explain that making this delicacy is too complicated to explain but that you’d be glad to sell them another bag for $5.