Thursday, October 04, 2012

chinese braised peanuts




Hi all! I don't know if you've noticed, but the last two months, Biren and I skipped out on our usual Nona Nona post as we were both chest deep in commitments and distractions. I'm happy to report now, that we've sorted everything out and we're game for another round of brainstorming, cooking and second guessing each other. If you're not familiar with Nona Nona, check it out here. In a nutshell, each month we settle on a theme for a dish and without consulting or discussing, we each decide on a dish that fits the theme.

Neither knows what the other will prepare, until the day of the reveal. It's been incredibly fun and a little nerve wrecking, as the goal thus far has been to avoid preparing the same dish, an ever present danger as we both have very similar cultural and culinary backgrounds, me being a born and bred Singaporean and Biren a transplanted born and bred Malaysian, now happily residing in Minnesota. For a peek at our past Nona Nona features, click here and get up to speed! This month's theme is "Asian Street Snacks" and if you're curious about what Biren has cooked up, her kitchen is this-a-way, but first, on to one of my favourite local street snacks...

I often wonder if our appreciation of things like music, movies or food is based as much on our emotional attachment to them as their intrinsic merit. Is this dish really as delicious as I think it is, or is it just,  alright and I think it's the bee's knees because seeing, smelling or tasting it transports me to a better, sweeter, simpler or happier time in my life?

Are these peanuts, normally boiled or simmered for up to eight hours to attain the perfect level of mushiness, really as good as I think they are, or do I love them because they take me back to those Thursday evenings when the street we lived on would be transformed by the bright lights and ear splitting noises of the weekly pasar malam (night bazaar))? To nine-year old me, it felt like the world had come to our door step, but for my grandma and mum, it just meant the weekly chore of replacing balding brooms, broken laundry pegs or a leaky pail. A definite highlight of the pasar malam for me, was the boiled peanut cart with the gargantuan wok full of bubbling peanuts. Before I even saw the cart, I could smell the distinctive sweet and mealy scent and see the billowing steam which almost obscured the seller from sight. I still wonder how it was possible that he never collapsed from the heat!




I always brought home a paper cone of them, so huge, I needed both hands to hold it. As we walked home, in virtual blackness punctuated only by the soft light from houses along the way, cricket song (yes, I have a thing about crickets) and crunching gravel and dirt beneath our feet, with our booty securely in one hand, my grandma would take a peanut from the cone, split the shell open and feed me, with the other, and never miss a beat, or drop anything. I'm convinced that she knew magic ;)



Braised peanuts have the kind of face, that as the saying goes, only a mother could love. When raw, their shells are pale and crusted with dirt. Cooking hardly improves their countenance; brown is one of my favourite colours, but is  there a less comely shade than that on a slimy, wet boiled peanut? And I, love them! But magic often happens in the most unexpected places. Even simmered with nothing more than salt and sugar, they are transformed into a treat so many times more than the sum of their parts. An unexpected plus with boiled peanuts is that they are more nutritious than their roasted counterparts as the kernels absorb the nutrients from the shell during the long, slow simmer.



The usual flavourings for Chinese braised peanuts are star anise, cinnamon, soy, salt and sugar, with some cooks throwing in a dried chilli or two for an added kick. I have cooked this with all of the above and I have done so with just salt and sugar. Sometimes I add whole unpeeled garlic cloves to the basic salt and sugar duo. They're all good, so it's just a matter of personal taste. I think the garlic,salt and sugar version is the best, so that's what I'm doing today.



So the 64 thousand dollar question (stop trying to guess my age) again - are boiled or braised peanuts everything I think they are, or is my perception coloured by the rosy glow of nostalgia for a simpler, sweeter time in my life? I might concede that it's largely in my head, if it were not for the legions of boiled peanut fans around the world, from the deep south of the United States, to Vietnam, Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, Japan, Peru, China, Brazil, Nigeria, India..... and still counting! We can't all be blinded by nostalgia, can we?



Chinese Braised Peanuts

Prep 10 mins        Cook 6 - 7 hours        Serves 4 - 6



500 g (about a pound) green (raw) peanuts or groundnuts in shell, thoroughly washed and drained
2.5 L (about 12 cups) water
1 1/2 tbsp salt
1 1/2 tbsp sugar
4 large cloves whole, unpeeled garlic
2 star anise (optional - I didn't include it)
1 stick cinnamon (optional - I didn't include it)



Combine everything in a deep and heavy based pot (to reduce evaporation rate so you don't have to top up with water too often) and bring to a boil.

Lower heat and simmer, stirring from time to time, to ensure even cooking, for at least 6 hours, longer if you like your peanuts really, really soft.

Keep topping up the water, to ensure peanuts are submerged throughout the cooking process.

When peanuts are done to your liking, turn off heat and drain well. Serve warm as a snack at any time, or with beer.




Note : You may also cook this in a pressure cooker. Combine ingredients in pressure cooker pot, increasing the water to 2.8 L (14 cups) and ensuring liquid level corresponds to manufacturer's specifications. Seal cooker according to instructions and set pressure at maximum (for meat). Bring to a boil, until cooker starts hissing or whistling and lower heat according to manufacturer's recommendations. Cook for 1 hour from the hissing stage. Turn off heat and de- pressurise according to manufacturer's instructions. When safe to open pot, open and drain peanuts. Serve warm. This method is not recommended for pressure cookers of a capacity below 8 L. 


16 comments:

  1. ROFL! We did it! Only our 5th post and we have managed to butt heads in the dark...HAHAHA! I guess we do share a common food heritage :)

    Anyway, I love boiled peanuts and have been meaning to cook it ever since I saw the raw peanuts appearing at the Asian market. Like all things here, raw peanuts are also seasonal. Yes, there are so many versions to this snack and it is all a matter of preference. Some vendors in Malaysia even have the nuts colored yellow. Not sure if they used kunyit or food coloring. I think I need to make another batch soon :)

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    1. Ummm..... Owwwwwww!?? LOL We'll probably do it a few times more yet ;)

      Wow! Yellow?? I've never seen that here - I hope it's kunyit though as it actually has great health benefits, unlike food colouring.

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  2. This was my after school snack. I came from a small town where they grow peanuts. We make candy chunks/ balls, use it to make chutney and eat as such as a roasted snack. I pressure cook them with salt and water. Serve it with the water to make it lip smacking good. I like to suck the salty water from the shell and eat the soft peanuts with it. YUM! Lovely pictures as always.

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    1. Hi Vijitha, you must have eaten a whole lot of peanuts growing up!!! And you would certainly be no stranger to how delicious boiled or braised peanuts can be :)

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  3. I love braised peanuts too. Looking at Biren and your peanuts posts make me want to eat some immediately :)

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    1. Hi Ann, I think probably only people of our generation or older only would like peanuts prepared this simple but delicious way. It's sad because that makes it much less popular than it used to be and therefore, harder and harder to come by....

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  4. Hmmm... sweet and salty. Nice. And sorry, but it must be said - you and Biren are now officially a couple of NUTTERS! ;-)

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  5. These kinda peanuts are one of the few things I remember about the little time I spent growing up in the Philippines. My dad use to buy them for us from street vendors. Lovely post Denise, def brings back great memories

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    1. Glad this brought back sweet memories for you Leanne :)

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  6. Hi Denise,
    Your photo caught my eye on Foodgwaker. It's funny how we remember foods and attach certain grandeur to them. I think in the end it really doesn't matter if they are as good as our mind thinks, it's what they mean to our hearts. The peanuts look really good. I have never tasted them but I am curious. Great post!

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    1. Thank you for the kind words Nancy :) I hope you get to try them, one day.

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  7. I have a nostalgic bend for boiled peanuts, too, and when I saw this pop up in my reader, my heart leapt! It is beautiful - no, stunning - but for me, you captured my heart more than my belly. I may love braised peanuts, but it is the memories of eating this special treat as a child that I cherish more. It's been too long. It is hard to find fresh peanuts to boil here, so when I do see them in the markets, I always do a happy dance :) What a gorgeous post, Denise.

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    1. Hi Liren, thanks for the lovely words.I always look forward to reading your thoughtful comments. It seems we both treasure beautiful memories, as much as we do culinary pleasures :)

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  8. There is absolutely nothing like shelling peanuts on a lazy afternoon and boiled salty peanuts are just the best! Thanks so much for posting this recipe - it's going to come handy again and again :)

    chow :) Devaki @ weavethousandflavors

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  9. Ha ha ha! You both hit the jack pot this time! Glad that your kacang rebus was done slightly differently. I've always love this snack. It's so addictive. Amazing that it takes so long to boil. Guess it's worth the wait :-D

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