Boiled peanuts aren’t glamorous.
They aren’t trendy or novel or Instagrammable. Stewed in murky brown liquid to a soft yet tender, toothsome texture, they’ll inevitably leave you with dirty hands, salt water dripping down to your elbows, piles of spent shells accumulating on the floor or table in front of you. It’s impossible to look elegant while eating boiled peanuts.
Honestly, that’s a large part of their appeal.
Peanuts have been a staple food of the south since the late 1800s.
Although they were brought to the United States by slave ships from West Africa, their true roots are found in South America. They were cheap, abundant, and well-suited to the loamy soils of Virginia in particular. Though initially viewed as food for the poor, slaves, and livestock, rationing brought about by the Civil War made peanuts an invaluable crop for people of all classes.
It’s unclear why or who started boiling the goobers, but southerners certainly weren’t the first. Boiled peanuts exist in many cultures, most notably in China, Taiwan, and of course Africa. For whatever reason, I discovered boiled peanuts for the first time while in Hawaii, sold in the deli section on little styrofoam trays, chilled and shrink-wrapped for grab-and-go convenience. They were often flavored with soy sauce and star anise, subtly savory and well-salted. I was hooked from the first bite.
Cracking into the supple shells of boiled peanuts, the experience is both familiar and wholly unique.
Reminiscent of edamame, but with a more satisfying crunch, they’re a curious combination of both wet and dry, with juices exploding from the center not unlike a soup dumpling. This treatment makes them more aligned with their true nature as legumes, rather than crisp, toasted nuts, highlighting their versatility by flipping the script. You could certainly enjoy them warm, or even hot, perhaps even in soup once shelled, but I still love mine chilled as a force of habit. Something about that extra time in the fridge seems to accentuate their rich flavor too, allowing the spices to meld into a more harmonious blend.
The beauty of boiled peanuts is manifold, outward aesthetics notwithstanding. Whole peanuts are still a mercifully cheap source of quality plant protein, with plenty of fiber and nutrients to boot. Seasoning possibilities are endless, so you’ll never get bored. The only drawback may be their long cooking time, but that’s nothing a little pressure can’t solve. By cooking boiled peanuts in the pressure cooker, you can slash a full day of simmering down to just over an hour, with zero active work involved.
Conventional recipes suggest that “green” peanuts are the only acceptable option, but in truth, any peanut still in its shell is fair game. If you can find them raw, so much the better, but I’ve had excellent results with roasted peanuts, too.
Don’t worry about making a mess when you dig in; that’s half the fun. All you need to enjoy this healthy, savory treat is a stack of napkins and a robust appetite.