So, does the humble peanut "clean up" for a white tablecloth presentation?
Earlier this month I had the pleasure of attending a very special lunch in Washington, D.C. March is National Peanut Month, and 2010 marks the tenth anniversary of the formation of the National Peanut Board, which was created by America's Peanut Farmers to promote USA-grown peanuts.
The National Peanut Board held a lunch in honor of their anniversary at the historic Eastern Market and while there were speeches galore, the most interesting part was the food. The entire menu revolved around peanuts, naturally. Now when you think of luncheon food featuring peanuts you probably picture a PB&J sandwich. Not this luncheon.
This was a big event and the menu was anything but simple. So the question is, can peanuts be fancy?
The menu was created by three well known D.C. chefs: Katsuya Fukushima (Café Atlantico), R.J. Cooper (Vidalia), and Bryan Voltaggio (Volt and a Top Chef contestant last season). Kids from BrainFood, a D.C.-based non-profit that uses food as a tool for youth development, were in the kitchen assisting the chefs.
The peanut extravaganza began before we even sat down, with a flurry of hors d'oeuvres that presented some mind-bending combinations:
There was minced hog jowl (the cheek of a hog) served with spiced peanuts, cucumber, and Bibb lettuce. I heard people raving about the roasted peanut parfait with lamb and lomo. I chuckled when I saw the concord grape macaroons with roasted peanut mousse, a fun French riff on the classic American PB&J.
I also really enjoyed the boiled peanuts made with Hawaiian sea salt and star anise served in little paper take-out cartons. Another standout was the shiitake velouté, made with roasted peanut sabayon and opal basil (peanuts and mushrooms is a surprisingly tasty combo!).
The crowd favorite was perhaps the most zany: Vietnamese spring rolls wrapped in peanut-flavored cotton candy.
We were seated for lunch and were presented with an appetizer of Langoustine with Peanuts and Celery. The langoustine was prepared perfectly, and the celery was a terrific herbaceous complement to the peanutty topping. The entrée was Rack of Suckling Pig with confit shoulder-potato torte, cranberry mostarda, and peanut emulsion (the foamy part). Everyone was wowed with how nicely the peanut emulsion complemented the richly marbled pork.
The dessert was decadence redefined: Textures of Chocolate with Roasted Peanut Ice Cream. Now, I wish they had used more peanut ice cream on the plate, but it was delicious nonetheless.
So, does the humble peanut "clean up" for a white tablecloth presentation? Have you ever prepared several courses all built around a common ingredient? What do you think about this style of cooking and entertaining?
About the author: Lee Zalben was a PB&J-loving kid that grew up to be the founder and president of Peanut Butter & Co., which began as a Greenwich Village sandwich shop serving nothing but peanut butter sandwiches and expanded to include the now-famous line of all natural flavored peanut butter. Lee is a graduate of Vassar College and enjoys traveling the world in search of interesting foods made with peanuts, tree nuts, and seeds. When he's not working, eating, flying or writing, he enjoys scuba diving and training elephants.