Monday, August 20, 2012

How to Make your Peanuts Unforgettable

Togolese Peanuts
Back in 2007 I had the opportunity to visit Togo - one of those countries in West Africa you don't hear much about. And there is a reason for that: Compared to its neighbors, Togo does not have much to offer.

There is, however, one thing that has stayed with me since that morning when I walked along the streets of Lome: the amazing taste of SAND-ROASTED PEANUTS. These goodies are salty, crunchy and delicious. By roasting them with heated sand, the peanuts are evenly toasted to perfection. Unlikely anything I've ever tried, the flavor of these nuts lingered on my tastebuds for years. In despair, I was always looking for people how could bring me back some from Togo but only once I got that lucky.

And then I came to Mozambique, where women abound selling small bags of the same sand-roasted peanuts!! (The only difference is that here they are sold with the skin on - not big deal). So I decided to learn how to make them and don't rely on remote African countries to satisfy my crave for crispy, crackling peanuts. More importantly, I'm sharing with you my dear readers what up to now has been a culinary secret passed on from generation to generation.

So lo and behold, here are the instructions of to make your peanuts memorable:

Step 1: Get the ingredients 
Note: understand what's going on instead of worrying about the exact measurements
Raw Peanuts
  • 2lb of Raw Peanuts. Make sure you buy the jumbo size. 
  • 8lb of Sand. Get it from a nearby beach as it will have traces of salt that will enhance the flavor (I'm not kidding). Also, make sure that the sand is not fine but rather coarse. If it's the powdery type, it will get inside the peanuts.
  • 6 cups of water: To boil the peanuts. 
  • 3tbs of Salt: For the water. After adding the salt, make sure the water taste like the pacific: very salty! 
Peanuts being Boiled 
Step 2: Boil Peanuts
Pour the 6 cups of water into a large pot. Add salt, taste it, and make sure is quite salty. The peanuts will absorb a lot of this salt so be generous. Depending on the size of the pot, you may have to split the peanuts in two or three batches. The idea is that there is about two floating layers of peanuts, above 3-4 inches of water. Add the peanuts and bring water to boil. It should take about 15-20 minutes. Once the water is boiling, keep the peanuts for another 10 minutes in the boiling water. To make sure they're ready, take one peanut and look for the following: a wrinkling skin and a yellowish color in the inside. 

Step 3: Put peanuts on a tray and dry 
Guarding Cat
After boiling the peanuts, drain them and put them in a tray so they can dry. It's very important that a cat supervises the drying process, ensuring that no birds get a hold of your soon-to-be-unforgettable peanuts. 
Although I prefer sun-drying, you could also use paper towels and a microwave, but that's lame. 

Step 4: Heat up the SAND!! 
Sand for the Indian Ocean
Start by putting some charcoal on a grill. Get it going until is flaming hot. Let me pause for a second: Laurinda, the woman that taught me how to do this, claims that a stove won't get the sand hot enough...I have my doubts, but if you don't have a grill go ahead and use a stove.
So once the grill is pretty hot, add the a cast-iron pot with the sand. Wait about 20min for the sand to get really hot. You'll see fumes coming out of it and if you touch it, you'll burn your fingers (I think it's important to have scars from legendary recipes, so go ahead and dip your fingers in the sand) . Then add enough peanuts to cover the surface of the pot.
The following step is the trickiest so pay close attention:

Step 5: Shake those Peanuts! (time to put on some good Mozambican music)
Once in the sand, the peanuts will take about 15-20 minutes to roast to perfection. It's really important that every 2-3 minutes you shake, churn, and spin the peanuts. I've added a video to show you how to do this (see below), but essentially, you need to make sure that none of the peanuts stay at the bottom of the pot, otherwise they'll burn quickly and ruin the party. Thanks to Laurinda for teaching me all this!!

The Color of Perfection
Get the Sand Out
Look for the brownish color - it indicates crunchiness and new friends. Once you got the level of crunchiness you like, get the peanuts out of the sand (or they'll keep cooking), spread them on a tray, and let them cool down.
Note that if you let them roast too much, the skin will like break and sand will get inside. It's not a big deal because you almost always take the skin off to eat them, but it's a bit annoying when traces of sand end up in your mouth.

Step 6: Enjoy and Show Off: 
La Negra y los Morenos
Anyway, you're pretty much done. Keep them in a dry, sealed container. Otherwise they lose their crunchiness. You can sell them for $7 a pound or give them as presents to your best friends. You can also impress your guests at a dinner party or simply eat them by yourself watching a good movie and enjoying a cold Laurentina Preta.

Anything can happen with these peanuts.

Bon appetit!