Over the years, I’ve traveled extensively throughout the South. Even today, taking to the open road and driving along the two-lane, kudzu-blanketed byways of the American South is a treat for me. I guess it stems from all those family summer vacations of old – pajama-clad and packed in the station wagon heading out at the break of dawn to visit the Great Smoky Mountains, and everything in between.
I remember those trips and I vividly recall where every pecan divinity-laced Stuckey’s roadside stop was located between my house in Bogalusa, Louisiana and Rock City, Tennessee. Back in the 1950s and early 1960s, before the Interstate Highway System effectively erased the beauty and mystery of traveling by car, there was a colorful world out there. For the price of a 25-cent gallon of gas, you could barrel along the back roads, and around each curve or at the bottom of every hill there was the prospect of delicious discovery.
Today, it’s McDonald’s Next Exit. Back then, it was Boiled Peanuts Just Ahead. As soon as you hit Mississippi and all through Alabama, Georgia and into Tennessee there was an endless procession of boiled peanut outposts. Some were behind the counter of the country store or next to the register inside the gas station, but just as many were sold roadside out of the back of a pick-up.
These were hard-working families with a dream and a sack of goobers. Just a washtub and a wood fire were all that was needed to set up shop along the red clay roadways of the South. A quarter for a bag of salt-infused boiled peanuts was a bargain and would get you down the road until the next stop.
Though times have changed, boiled peanuts are still a summer obsession for most dyed-in-the-wool Southerners, me included. On a recent road trip across the Southeast with Roxanne and Lauren, we decided to get off the interstates and take to the back roads in search of that long, lost American South that I remember so well. And good news, it’s still there, boiled peanuts included. As we traveled through our neighboring states, we looked for them anywhere and found them most everywhere. But during this trip, I discovered a most-interesting twist to this story that has me boiling mad – Cajun boiled peanuts.
First, understand that with the exception of a few spots (Fresh Pickin’s Produce Market is one), you rarely find boiled peanuts sold in Acadiana. Almost never. In fact, peanuts aren’t grown by commercial farms in Louisiana, and according to my friends at LSU Ag Center, there is no market for them here. Now don’t get me wrong, raw peanuts are seasonally available in South Louisiana, but all of them are imported, usually from Georgia, Tennessee or Virginia.
Now all that’s okay, but to add insult to injury and what drives me nuts is that the next time you are traveling through our sister Southern states and see boiled peanuts being sold, be sure to take note of the two options – regular or Cajun boiled peanuts. Seems that the profiteering peanut purveyors of the South have discovered that Cajun sells and they have commandeered our cultural birthright to market their spiced-up nuts. Them’s fightin’ words!
Here in Acadiana, we would never dream of salt-curing a hindquarter of pork and call it Virginia country ham. But it seems, no matter where we go, the Cajun moniker is freely misappropriated for most any spicy food that hits a menu outside of Louisiana. Over the years, there have been efforts by the Louisiana Department of Agriculture to enforce a Certified Cajun brand to ensure authenticity, but to little impact.
Every time I go on this rant and before I start boiling over, my wonderful wife brings me back to reality. “Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery,” she says and I most always calm down to a simmer. She’s right and I’ve changed my tune. Every time an enterprising Appalachian hillbilly fires up his peanut pot with a heavy dose of Louisiana spice and calls it Cajun, I’m gonna thank him. And you should too, because he’s right — anything that’s lip-smacking, finger-licking, flavor-filled delicious has just got to come from Cajun country.
Now, here are the steps for making authentic Cajun boiled peanuts. You can thank me later.
Buying the right peanuts is an important first step and is somewhat of a shell game. You will see roasted, green or raw peanuts, but not understanding the difference can be disastrous. Roasted are for eating dry right out of the bag, not ever to be used for boiling. Now, let’s talk green peanuts. Unless you live down the road from Jimmy Carter, you are probably not going to run across the freshly harvested, just-out-of-the-field green peanuts. They usually appear in late summer and if you do find them, then you are in for a very special treat. These are the best for boiled peanuts, but you need to boil them immediately or they will spoil quickly. For most of us, dried raw peanuts (sometimes mistakenly marked “green”) are the boiling peanuts of choice. They have a low ten percent moisture content and can be stored for long periods of time. For the same reason, they need a long boil before eating.
In a nutshell, boiling peanuts is foolproof. And with my slow cooker method, boiling peanuts is dead simple – water, a little salt and peanuts with a long, slow simmer. From there, the seasoning variations are endless and that’s where the fun begins. Unlike boiling crawfish, peanuts are very forgiving and it is difficult to mess this up.
My Cajun boiled peanuts have just the right balance of seasoning and spice with the natural taste of the peanut coming through. This recipe is about spice, not heat. But, I do have a secret ingredient — beer. I use one bottle of beer per pound of peanuts that adds a unique flavor profile. My beer of choice is an Acadiana favorite craft brew LA 31 from Teche Brewing in Arnaudville, Louisiana. Their Passionné is a wheat beer with a rich stout body that works well with the natural peanut flavor. Oh, and one more thing — garlic…lots of garlic. This recipe is outrageously flavorful and while you should have a little red pepper tingle to your lips, I am not going to send you screaming for relief. That’s where folks outside of Cajun country fail. They mistakenly equate Cajun cooking with blistering hot spice.
Try this recipe on a 3-pound bag before you shell out some big bucks for a 50-pound sack of peanuts. But don’t say I didn’t warn you, these things are addictive and pretty soon you’ll be firing up the burner and inviting the whole neighborhood for a backyard peanut boil.
Move over crawfish, and make room in the pot!
Beer-Boiled Cajun Peanuts
Prep time: 10 minutes
Cooking time: 10 hours
Serves: 4 to 8
In South Louisiana, look for raw or green peanuts at Fresh Pickin’s market in Lafayette or Pete’s Farmer’s Market on Airline Highway in Baton Rouge. Cooking time in a slow cooker varies with respect to peanut size, type and moisture content. Raw peanuts take longer to cook than green peanuts. Generally speaking, the longer boiled peanuts hang out in the warm liquid, the better they get. But note, there is a point when peanuts begin to turn mushy, but you will be sure to eat them all before that happens. Be careful not to make the boiling liquid too salty. You can always add more salt or spice at the end of cooking.
3 pounds raw (or green) peanuts
3 whole heads garlic
3 bottles beer
6 cups water, plus more if needed
3 tablespoons garlic powder
3 tablespoons onion powder
3 tablespoons red pepper flakes
2 tablespoons salt
Rinse the peanuts and remove any grit or dirt.
In the container of a 6 to 8 quart slow cooker, add the peanuts. Without peeling, place the whole heads of garlic in the cooker and pour over the beer. Add enough water to cover the peanuts. Add the garlic powder, onion powder, red pepper flakes and salt. Stir to combine.
Set the timer on the cooker for 10 hours and let cook on low all day or overnight. Test for doneness and cook longer until the peanuts are tender. Add more water to the cooker if needed and set to warm. Let the peanuts soak in the warm liquid for another two hours. Serve the peanuts from the cooker and refrigerate any leftovers in a covered container. These boiled peanuts are excellent cold or can be reheated in the slow cooker.
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