Mongolian Fried Peanuts

油炸花生

Preparation info

  • Difficulty

    Easy

  • Makes 1½ cups peanuts, enough to serve

    10–15

    as a light munch preceding a meal.

Appears in

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.

  • North Chinese, in particular, have a penchant for peanuts. Boiled in seasoned water and sometimes roasted, they typically appear at the beginning of a meal, alongside a plate of pickled cucumbers and one of cold noodles.
  • This is my favorite peanut dish, learned from a broad-faced Mongolian cook. It is very simple to prepare and utterly addictive. If you are a calorie-counter, eat them roasted. If you couldn’t care, bring them to full glory by frying. Small Valencia peanuts are especially good in this dish, but any red-skinned peanut will do.

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Ingredients

  • ½ pound ( cups) raw, red-skinned peanuts

To infuse the peanuts

  • 1 heaping tablespoon Szechwan brown peppercorns
  • 1 heaping tablespoon star anise
  • 1 heaping tablespoon coarse kosher salt
  • teaspoon sugar
  • cups water
  • 3–4 cups fresh corn or peanut oil, or oil for deep-frying nuts coarse kosher salt to taste

Method

Seasoning the nuts

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.

Roasting the nuts

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 preheated 350° oven for 30 minutes, shaking the tray occasionally to redistribute the nuts. Rotate the tray, reduce the heat to 300°, then check at 10–15-minute intervals until the nuts are almost entirely dry, with a touch of moistness at the core. Taste-test peanuts from different parts of the tray to be sure.

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.

Frying the nuts

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.

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