Updated August 2010.
Utopian idealist and German inventor Rudolf Diesel had a dream. When he demonstrated his new engine at the 1900 Paris World Exposition, it ran not on petroleum, but on peanut oil.
In the perfect world, Diesel believed, renewable biofuels like peanut oil could power farm machinery and automobiles.
More than 100 years later, my car still guzzles gasoline, but peanut oil powers my stir-fry cooking, earning it shelf space in The Perfect Pantry.
Low in the saturated fats that can elevate cholesterol, peanut oil is made by passing cleaned peanuts through hullers to separate the kernels; the kernels, which contain 48-56 percent oil, are then crushed, heated and pressed in hydraulic presses. The extracted oil is used in the manufacture of margarines and shortenings, and as a cooking oil. The leftover shells become cattle feed. Two-thirds of the world's peanut harvest is processed for peanut oil.
Most American peanut oils are mild-flavored, whereas Chinese peanut oil, less heavily refined, has a nuttier flavor. It's used in Asian cooking much like olive oil is used in Mediterranean cooking, as an all-purpose frying oil valued for its high smoke point. Smoke point is the temperature to which an oil can be heated before it begins to smoke and discolor, which means the oil is decomposing. Peanut oil's smoke point is 450°F, compared to extra-virgin olive oil (405°F), canola oil (400°F), and butter (350°F). For stir-frying, a small amount of sesame oil (smoke point 410°F) is sometimes added with the peanut oil, to enhance the flavor of the dish.
Peanut oil, my choice for frying everything from tofu to latkes, is a bit pricey in the local grocery store, but is half the price in our Asian market. And the packaging, with a smiling lion's head and those giant peanuts, is irresistible.
Kim's college friend Ingrid introduced her to a version of these wonderful eggrolls, and Kim taught me how to make them. Feel free to substitute shrimp for chicken, or to omit the meat entirely and add in chopped water chestnuts and bamboo shoots. This recipe makes approximately 75 eggrolls; they can be frozen and reheated in the oven.
1 small onion, diced
1 lb boneless chicken breast, diced (optional; you can substitute tofu)
1 small bunch broccoli, chopped, stems peeled and diced
1/4 lb mushrooms, chopped
Mung beans or alfalfa sprouts -- a large handful
2 Tbsp oyster-flavored sauce
3 Tbsp reduced-sodium soy sauce
1 tsp sesame oil
1/2 package sugar substitute, or 1 tsp sugar
2 packages eggroll wrappers
Peanut oil for frying (1 whole bottle)
Plum sauce (a.k.a. duck sauce) or hoisin sauce, for dipping
TO MAKE THE FILLING: In a nonstick frying pan or wok over medium-high heat, saute onion in 2 Tbsp peanut oil for 2 minutes. Add chicken, and cook for 3 minutes, turning constantly. Add broccoli, mushrooms and bean sprouts, and cook 5 minutes. In a small bowl mix oyster sauce, soy sauce, sesame oil and sugar substitute, and add to broccoli mixture. Cook for 2 more minutes, stirring constantly, and set aside to cool for 10 minutes or more.
Fill wok half way with remaining peanut oil (or if you have a deep-frying contraption, use that), and heat to a medium-high temperature. While the oil is heating, begin to fill the eggroll wrappers. Place 1-2 tsp of filling in the lower third of a wrapper, fold the bottom up over the mixture, then fold the sides in and roll the wrapper. Seal with a dab of water. (Folding directions are on the back of the eggroll wrapper package.) Fry 3 or 4 at a time for 2 minutes, or until golden brown. Drain on paper towels. Serve with plum sauce.
Other recipes that use peanut oil:
Peanut sesame noodles, from Appetite for China
Cashew chicken, from Simply Recipes
Chicken palava (African peanut stew), from Kayotic Kitchen
Cabbage and lime salad with roasted peanuts, from Smitten Kitchen
Peanut curry noodles with seared shrimp and scallops, from Love and Olive Oil
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