31 August 2007
An Ice Cream Many Days in the Making
Some foods taste better by the side of the road. Standing next to Highway 17, cars racing past, the smell of diesel fumes and humid swamp air, waiting to grab that warm, damp paper bag full of briney goodness. I’m talking about boiled peanuts, specialty of the South’s Lowcountry, and staple of my childhood memories of South Carolina. My family has vacationed on a small island there for generations, my grandmother lived there for a period, and many summers, spring breaks, and holidays of my life have been spent on that tiny strip of sand between marsh and sea.
We have many traditions when we’re in South Carolina, but among them a bag of boiled peanuts is paramount. At spring break my friend Hollis and I would prowl every possible location for boiled peanuts, even though it was really too early for the season to have begun. We’d scan all the roadside stands along the highway, then we’d ask at the Shell station and the local hardware store, where they might have few bags lurking in the back, next to the beer. Boiled peanuts are raw green peanuts which are cooked in their shells in a salty brine until the nuts are soft. The best place to get them was always the roadside stands, next to the sweetgrass baskets and local peaches, and where the peanuts were scooped directly out of a huge stockpot of bubbly brine. Hollis and I would tear into the still warm bag immediately, and could be heard, between our slurps of peanuts, shouting out, “this one’s got four!” and “I’ve got a fiver,” referring to how many delectable peanuts were in each shell.
I will admit that boiled peanuts are an acquired taste, which may be why they have yet to find their way to other parts of the country, much to my own dismay. Many, many years ago, facing a serious craving, I even ordered a boiled peanut kit from some very funny folks named the Lee Brothers, long before they became New York Times correspondents and famous cookbook authors. I stirred up a several gallon vat of boiled peanuts that I froze in small batches and which kept me satisfied for a year or two. Recently, I got another tip from a Taiwanese friend of P.’s: she told me the Chinese eat boiled peanuts all the time, and to my delight, many Chinese markets sell fresh-boiled peanuts. They usually come already shelled, and with slightly less soft texture and more soy-sauce-flavor, but they are good enough to curb any cravings.
With a few reliable sources for boiled peanuts secured, I’ve been able to turn my thoughts to encorporating boiled peanuts into other recipes. I don’t know how I came up with the idea for boiled peanut ice cream, it was a wacky idea, but with their soft texture and salty-smoothness, one I thought could work. My idea was confirmed when the Lee Brothers published a recipe for boiled peanut ice cream with sorghum swirl. However, while they simply folded boiled peanuts into the ice cream, my idea was to purée the peanuts into the custard base. Again, our Taiwanese friend came to the rescue, telling me about a similar Taiwanese ice cream, for which I was even able to track down a recipe (at this point I was also beginning to feel that any attempt of coming up with anything original was futile).
Luckily, other people had shared my idea about (boiled) peanut ice cream because it’s a good one. This ice cream is really delicious, it is wonderfully creamy with a mellow underlying peanut flavor and salty-sweetness. Though you recognize the peanut taste, it’s more subtle and more complex than your average peanut butter ice cream. However, while it’s worth it to track down some boiled peanuts to make this, it works equally well when made with creamy peanut butter. No matter which you use, if you’re looking for a great peanut ice cream recipe you’ve got it.
Oh, and while we’re talking ice cream, and road food, it’s time for me to fess up to my favoite ice cream topping: crushed salted pretzels. Seriously, you all have got to try it. I love hunks of crunchy things in my ice cream, and the big chunky salt on pretzels provides the perfect punctuation to the sweet cream. I’m rather picky about my pretzels, and you’ll want something that crumbles easily, like Snyder’s snaps. The topping works particularly well with peanut ice cream, although roasted peanuts are good, too.
It's with great happiness and relief that I announce today is the last day of August and the final day of the ice cream challenge. I saved one of my favorites for last, but they're all delicious. I'll be posting a round-up soon, after I go bury my ice cream maker in the back yard and swear never to use it again.
Peanut Ice Cream with Pretzels
Boiled peanuts, which involve cooking raw green peanuts until they are soft, are a specialty of the American South and part of traditional Chinese cuisine. They are available fresh and canned in the American South, and at Chinese markets. In general, Chinese-style boiled peanuts tend to be a bit firmer than American-style ones, so you’ll need to cook them a few extra minutes until soft. Puréeing the soft peanuts is a whole new twist on peanut ice cream, but you can also use peanut butter for convenience.
Topping the ice cream with pretzels may sound odd, but it is hands-down one of my favorite ice cream toppings. The pretzels add just the right crunch and the big flakes of salt highlight the ice cream, and particularly the peanut flavor, perfectly. If you’re serving the ice cream right away, you can fold the pretzels into the ice cream, but don’t do it ahead of time, as the pretzels will get stale in the freezer.
1 cup puréed boiled peanuts (from about 2 1/2 cups unshelled boiled raw peanuts), or substitute 1 cup creamy peanut butter
1 1/2 cups whole milk
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
3/4 cup sugar
1 tsp vanilla
4 egg yolks
1/2 cup crushed salted pretzels, for serving
1. If using boiled peanuts: The peanuts should have been cooked until soft. Shell the peanuts, then rinse them very well in a colander to get off the salty brine. Place the peanuts in a saucepan with water to cover and bring to a boil. Boil the peanuts until they are soft, depending on your nuts this may only take one minute or up to 5-6 minutes. Drain the peanuts, transfer to a food processor, and purée the mixture until mostly smooth (a few lumps are ok).
2. Heat the cream, milk, sugar, and vanilla in a saucepan over moderate heat until the sugar is dissolved and the mixture is steaming. Combine the egg yolks in a small bowl, then add a little of the milk mixture to temper the egg yolks. Add the egg yolk mixture to the saucepan and cook over low heat, stirring constantly, until thick enough to coat the back of a spoon. Do not boil it or it will curdle. Remove from the heat and stir in the peanut purée or peanut butter. Taste for seasoning, depending on how salty your peanuts were, you may or may not want to add a pinch of salt.
3. Chill the mixture thoroughly in the refrigerator, at least 3 hours or overnight. Churn in your ice cream machine according to the manufacturer’s directions. Serve with the pretzels sprinkled on top.
PB&J- Add a swirl of grape jelly after churning the ice cream.
Double Peanut Chunk- freeze mini peanut butter cups until solid, roughly chop, fold into churned ice cream.
Peanut Crunch Ice Cream- fold in a handful of salted roasted peanuts at the end of churning.
Peanut Banana Chip- fold in banana chips at the end of churning.
Peanut-Sorghum Swirl- add a swirl of sorghum syrup or cane syrup.
And A Final Note: Those cute little buckets the ice cream is in? My grandfather owned a cedar bucket factory back in the fifties in Tennessee. Nowadays, my mom collects the old cedar buckets, and recently gave me this one.