While some Chinese archaeologists have identified entombed morsels as peanuts, it is the general consensus that peanuts were introduced to China in the mid-sixteenth century, relatively late in her culinary history. Whatever their antiquity, it is a sure fact that the humble peanut became wildly popular among Chinese, as much so as that other New World import, tobacco.
Discard any rotten or blemished nuts. Combine the peppercorns, anise, salt, sugar, and water in a medium-size saucepan. Bring to a boil over high heat, stir, then reduce the heat to maintain a steady simmer. Cover the pot tightly, simmer 5 minutes, then add the peanuts. Stir to combine, replace the cover, then cook 5 minutes more. Turn off the heat and let the peanuts steep in the covered pot for 10–12 hours.
Drain the nuts in a colander (do not run them under water), then pat dry with paper towels. Spread the nuts evenly in a large jelly-roll pan or baking pan lined with a triple thickness of paper towels, and discard the anise. If you are making a double or triple batch, spread the nuts on 2 trays. Bake in the middle section of a
Remove the nuts from the oven, and put them in a shallow bowl to cool. Stir occasionally, and discard the peppercorns when they are cool enough to be removed with your fingers.
The nuts can be fried immediately, or left overnight. If you like them roasted, eat them now while warm.
Have ready a tray lined with a double thickness of paper towels, a Chinese mesh spoon or metal strainer, a large, absorbent brown paper bag, and about ½ teaspoon coarse kosher salt.
Heat a wok or deep, heavy skillet over moderate heat until hot. Add the oil and heat to the slow-fry stage, 275° on a deep-fry thermometer. Reduce the heat to low, then add the peanuts to the oil. They will hardly bubble. Fry 4–7 minutes, depending on the size of the nuts, until they turn golden. Stir constantly and slowly while frying. Do not allow the oil temperature to rise. And do not let the nuts brown. They will continue to cook from their own heat after leaving the oil.
Scoop the nuts from the oil with the spoon or strainer, hold them briefly above the oil to drain, then spread them on the towel-lined tray. Shake the tray to blot up excess oil, then pour the nuts into the paper bag. Close the bag, gently turn and shake it to blot up the last oil, then add salt to taste and gently shake the bag again to distribute the salt. The nuts will stay warm for a while in the bag, if you wish to hold them briefly.
Eat the peanuts immediately or when cool, as an hors d’oeuvre, or placed in small bowls on the table as a diversion during a meal.
Once cool, the nuts will keep for 2 weeks, stored in an airtight jar.
© 1982 Barbara Tropp estate. All rights reserved.