“You travel to Seattle — the odds of finding a boiled peanut are less than those of finding an asteroid in your pocket,” says Matt Lee, speaking of the elusive South Carolina treat that he and his brother Ted have championed and made available to the entire country via BoiledPeanuts.com. The siblings are passionate about Southern food and cooking and have recently published their third cookbook, The Lee Bros. Charleston Kitchen.
If you haven’t tried boiled peanuts, “you need to shock yourself out of it being different,” says Lee. “It’s frightening to encounter something you’ve been eating since you were a child in a different form. It looks the same, but it tastes different. That's a shock to a lot of people, and once you get over that, you can appreciate the genius of a boiled peanut.” He continues, “It’s sort of like eating salted boiled chickpeas — but more interesting than that. When you preserve the freshness of the flavor, you get this more vegetable bean-like quality that's cool and fully formed."
The Basic Recipe
Here’s what Lee recommends to make your own boiled peanuts:
Raw peanuts in the shell: They can be either green raw peanuts (freshly picked – usually available around May-November) or dried raw peanuts (available year-round). Note: Green peanuts are harder to find.
- Salt water: Add ½ cup of salt to each gallon of water.
Fill a pot with raw peanuts in the shell and cover with the salty water. Simmer on a low boil. If you’re using fresh green peanuts, boil for 1-2 hours. If you’re using dried raw peanuts, it may take 6-8 hours. Pull peanuts out every so often and test them. They should be tender with the right amount of salt for your taste. Adjust the level of salt in the water as you cook, if need be.
What You Can Do With Boiled Peanuts
“We've played around a lot,” says Lee. “You shell them as you would a roasted peanut, but slurping down the brine stuck in the shell is part of the appeal. It's like eating an oyster — and that’s snack mode. We have had fun experimenting with boiled peanuts shelled and used in other preparations, like an olive substitute on a salad; we've also done soups that worked nicely. People have made fritters and sort of a hummus out of them. Anything you can do with chickpeas or other beans, you can do with boiled peanuts.”
“Boiled peanuts are perishable,” adds Lee. “They last about 10 days in the fridge from the moment you boil them. That's why we ship them by FedEx to get them there as quickly as possible. They also freeze really well.”
Interesting Ways to Spice Them Up
"In the last couple of decades the two most popular flavorings have been Cajun — using like a crab boil, cayenne and bay leaf type of seasoning — and a smoked meat flavor, which is achieved by putting a ham hock in there," explains Lee. “Both are delicious, though totally not essential,” he says. “In China, they typically boil peanuts with star anise, which is a neat twist. But you can brew up any kind of spicy seasoned broth and do some fun things with the peanuts.” April Bloomfield [renowned British chef of The Breslin and The Spotted Pig in New York City] began working with boiled peanuts well into her career as a genius chef and decided they needed to be braised in pork fat. “And her boiled are some of the most wild and luscious boiled peanuts you've ever had,” raves Lee.
For more information about Matt and Ted Lee, read “Cooking with the Lee Brothers.”