At the Table

Cracking the Code: Boiled Peanuts

By: Erin Byers Murray

Boiled peanuts take a turn through Italy by way of Oxford

At Tarasque Cucina in Oxford, Mississippi, the first thing guests do when they sit down to dinner is get their hands dirty. Inside a former residential home, diners crack boiled peanuts as they watch the action in the open kitchen, music spilling into the dining room. It feels a bit like a house party.

A man and woman stand looking fondly at each other.

Chef-owner John Martin Stokes has been dropping these interactive treats onto tables since he and his wife, Lauren, launched Tarasque as a take-out and delivery business in 2015. Back then, they would also host intimate, 12-to-16-course degustation dinners out of a multiuse kitchen space. “They were super punk rock,” Lauren says. “People brought their own wine and you were eating for three hours. You just never knew what was going to happen.”

The exception? Boiled peanuts always hit the table first. “People had preconceived notions of a tasting dinner,” John says, noting how one diner showed up in coattails. “To get people comfortable and convivial, I wanted their hands to get dirty. What better way to do that than everyone eating peanuts?”

In south Mississippi, where John’s mother’s family is from, when peanuts are in season, they’re everywhere: on the side of the highway, at the gas station. “The way I was exposed to them was Sunday dinners at my grandmother’s house where she would always have a pot on. They were just kind of ubiquitous. It’s something I’ve always done.”

man behind a large tray of boiled peanuts

It starts with the way they’re boiled. During those early dinners, John combined them with preserved lemon or various oils and spices. Now, he takes inspiration from his grandmother, who would boil shrimp as an appetizer and then reuse the broth to boil the peanuts. John re-creates that broth with dashi (it reheats better than shrimp broth) and amps it up with paprika, chili powder, and Worcestershire. “The smokiness of the dashi lends itself to the earthiness of the peanut,” he says.

The finished peanuts are then tossed with good olive oil, romano cheese, and parsley. “I wanted to round out the flavor and make it more emollient. Peanut butter is so delicious because of how much fat or oil you whip into it, so I wanted something to be a bridge like that,” John says. As the cheese and oil coat your fingers and you dig deeper into bowl, you’ll believe it when he says, “It just works.”

Get the Recipe: Tarasque Cucina Boiled Peanuts

Boiled peanuts in a bowl
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