The Caviar of the South?

By Phil La Borie

That depends on who you’re talking to and the actual preparation.

For openers, there is some contention about what really should be known as “The Caviar of the South.” For some, this appellation refers to soft pimento cheese. This delicious spread, just like fried chicken or grits, has become a traditional symbol of the southern kitchen.

OK, that’s one definition, but for me and for numerous other southern food aficionados, The Caviar of the South refers to Boiled Peanuts.

I know that there might be some disagreement here about which definition is correct, and I know that there are several other serious contenders including skillet cornbread, collard greens and hoecakes, chicken fried steak, fried green tomatoes, deviled eggs and fried okra, but hear me out. I’m hopeful that my initial encounter with boiled peanuts might serve as a helpful guide to others seeking to fully enjoy a small, but significant portion of the southern food experience.

I have to say that after I first tried the traditional boiled treat, I was seriously thinking about writing an angry letter to Paula Deen or some other well-known Southern cooking luminary about how much I detested the taste of South Carolina’s famous boiled peanuts. Then I actually took a couple of minutes to read a recipe about how to prepare them. What a revelation!

Bottom line:

Oh, you mean that you actually have to boil them and then remove them from the shell before they’re ready to eat?

Duh!

Here’s what happened:

A little while back, I saw a sign in a grocery store advertising Boiled Peanuts. The sign was accompanied by a generous pile of the goobers on a table, a large and inviting metal spoon and a supply of good-sized plastic bags. I scooped several helpings of the nuts into a bag and took them back to my apartment. Then, thinking (without really thinking) that they were ready to serve, dished them up for a valued house guest who was visiting from up north.

“Try these boiled peanuts.” I enthusiastically exclaimed. “They’re supposed to be really tasty. A true southern treat. Hope you like them!”

In fairness, I had not tasted them beforehand myself. When I did so, one bite proved me to be a completely unreliable southern food critic and also utterly and completely ignorant about how to prepare the treat. The Caviar of the South tasted awful!

No wonder, since the shells were unwashed and uncooked, and I had not removed the peanuts, who can blame the little fellows for what they tasted like? Hardly their fault.

Talk about a Connecticut Yankee in South Carolina’s food court – that was me – in spades, or nuts, take your pick.

I know you’re asking gentle reader, how could anyone be such a complete dunce?

It takes practice, trust me, but then I did a little research about preparing this tasty treat. The result of that effort was that I discovered that there’s really no official way to create genuine South Carolina boiled peanuts.

However, there is one ironclad, completely practical rule – You gotta cook ‘em before y’all eat ‘em.

Further research revealed that cooking times and temperatures vary greatly, as do the actual ingredients (with the notable exception of the peanuts), including the amount of salt and spices to be used, etc.

So, based on my research, I decided to give my efforts another go. This time, for starters, I’d start by boiling ‘em up. After several attempts, I finally hit on a formula that I like.

So, without any fear of outdoing Ms. Deen or insulting the Peanut Guy in Charleston, here’s my recipe:

PHIL’S NO FRILLS BOILED PEANUTS

A salty, shell-shucking, satisfying snack for sure.

You can double, triple or even quadruple this recipe for even more tasty munching, but if you’re a novice boiled peanut chef, I advise starting with a smaller amount so you can maintain control. Also keep in mind that the longer the peanuts sit in salted water, the saltier they will become.

The shells also follow the fabled Peanut Soaking Law, i.e., “Leave ‘em sit and they will soften.” Just how soft you want them to be is up to you.

Preparation Time: Five Minutes*

Cooking Time: Two hours, 30 minutes, +/-

Ingredients:• 1-lb. raw “green” peanuts (meaning fresh, raw peanuts)• 1/4 cup Kosher salt (You can also use table salt, but I prefer the Kosher variety – it gives the finished product a more intense taste.)• Four cups of water

Seasoning:• I like to add two tsp. of Old Bay Seasoning. That gives the mix an extra snap, but that’s just a more seasoned opinion.

Method:Thoroughly rinse the unshelled, raw peanuts in cold water.Place the peanuts, water, salt and seasoning in a large pot. Cover the pot and reduce the heat so the mixture stays at a low boil.

Boil for two-three hours or even longer, depending on how soft you want the nuts to be.

Drain and enjoy within a couple of days since boiled peanuts do not keep as well as their unboiled brethren.

* Prep time can vary depending on how much cold beer the cook ingests during the process.

So how is The Caviar of the South supposed to taste? From my own experience and from what I gather from other would-be peanut preparation professionals, the finished product should have a sort-of potato-like texture and taste.

If you like baked or boiled potatoes, you get the idea.

My recipe was certainly a vast improvement over my first experience.

 

 

About this writer

  • Phil La Borie Phil La Borie is an award-winning writer/artist based in Garden City, South Carolina. His work has been published in AdWeek, The Kaiser-Permanente Journal, Westworld Magazine and online at smilesforall.com. Phil is the 2015 winner of the Alice Conger Patterson Award offered through the Emrys Foundation. He can be reached at plaborie@voxinc.net.

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2 Responses to “The Caviar of the South?”

  1. Linda O'Connell says:

    Ah Phil, once was enough for me. They tasted like unseasoned beans. Maybe they are an acquired taste. All my southern friends love them.

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