Magic in a Nutshell: Points for Peanuts

October 17, 2012

3 Min Read
Magic in a Nutshell: Points for Peanuts

By Ed Engoron, Contributing Editor

Unlike virtually any other type of ingredient, the bold, buttery flavor and crunch of nuts elevates dishes from ordinary to extraordinary. Nuts are among the most versatile, efficient, energy-packed foods in natures pantry. They can be used in breads, sauces, salads, soups, entrées, ice cream, confections and snacks. They can be pressed into aromatic oils, turned into milks, or ground into creamy or chunky butters. They complement flavors ranging from sweet and savory to hot and spicy.

Nuts can be consumed raw, toasted, roasted or fried. Many are boiled, blanched, blistered and baked. Nuts are even ground into fine flours to enhance desserts or to completely replace wheat flour to produce gluten-free baked goods. Nuts can be pressed for valuable oils for cooking or for adding delicate flavors to dressings.

Throughout history, people consumed peanuts (not actually a nut, but a legume, or groundnut")  boiled or roasted. But when an unknown inventor found a way to salt them in their shells using saline brine, it gave them that distinctive, salted flavor. It also gave us a way to create a variety of in-shell flavors, such as  chipotle chile, coconut curry, hot Thai chili, barbecue, California wine, Wisconsin beer, Tennessee bourbon whisky, salted margarita, cinnamon-sugar, Caribbean jerk, sea salt and pepper, and salted balsamic vinegar, by introducing different-flavored brines.

Peanut butter, too, can be blended with an array of different flavors. For example, Peanut Butter & Co., New York, makes dark chocolate, white chocolate, cinnamon raisin, honey and maple flavored peanut butters.

Despite being considered the quintessential all-American nut, peanuts (in whole or part) are used in a wide array of international cuisines and ethnic dishes, including Thai chicken-lettuce cups, Bangkok beef in satay sauce, Hunan-style kung pao and even Mexican mole poblano. While Asian cuisines tend to be nut-friendly, nuts are also enjoyed in abundance in the dishes of Latin America, the Caribbean, Cuba and our beloved American barbecue.

Restaurants from upscale to quick-casual are cracking into peanuts. A sampling of menu items includes peanut bisque, a savory soup served by a fast-casual chain; fried peanut polenta croutons as a unique topping at a steakhouse; Caribbean peanut rice pudding served in a bistro in Key West; peanut ranch dressing found on a Las Vegas buffet; peanut-chile-crusted ahi salad, a favorite in Little Tokyo, CA; and peanut-studded chipotle smashed potatoes, peanut relish mole, and peanut-chorizo ranchero bread pudding have been spotted in upscale hotel restaurants.

Peanuts pair well with a variety of flavors, including the classic favorite, chocolate. Consider chocolate-peanut butter ganache truffles, chocolate-peanut butter wontons, chocolate-peanut butter snackin granola, or a hot fudge-peanut trifle with peanut butter pastry cream and peanut-vanilla bean whipped cream.

Peanuts also go well with bacon, another all-American favorite. One successful product is Sir Francis Bacon Brittle, a combination of Benton bacon, Spanish peanuts and pure cane sugar. Its a simple combination that rockets the peanut to star status.

At Choclatique, my confection company, we developed and manufacture a line of Pure Power bars, packed with 9 grams of peanut protein and only 200 calories. Peanuts and nuts help curb your appetite naturally, and are also a good source of fiber, and contain heart-healthy unsaturated fats and more than 30 vitamins and minerals.

Ed Engoron, Ph.D., is president and CEO of Perspectives/The Consulting Group, Inc., and co-founder of Choclatique, Los Angeles. He has over 35 years of experience in the food and foodservice industry creating food concepts, recipes, packaging and promotions. He attended Cordon Bleu in Paris, hosted ABCs syndicated programs The Food Show, Stump the Chef, and Super Foodies, and authored "Choclatique150 Simply Elegant Desserts" (Running Press, 2011). Contact him at [email protected].

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