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The primary reason I go to bars is for the snacks.
Much to the chagrin of my fellow Food52 editors, I don't really care very much about alcohol. But I make up for it with my love of salty, crispy, and, preferably, deep-fried, snack items. (Kendra knows what I'm talking about!)
And when I get to eat these snacks without having to sit in a dim bar, all the better!
I've recently been seeing (and eating) a lot of half-popped popcorn, which I can't seem to find a DIY hack for (it's patent-protected). Corn nuts, however, hit the same crunchy-chewy-salty marks with none of the scary legal implications.
Known as cancha in Peru and Colombia, corn nuts are simply roasted or deep-fried corn giant white corn kernels. Once you get these kernels, which are available at South American grocery stores, specialty food stores, and the lovely local shop known as Amazon, all you need is oil and salt.
Giant white corn kernels after being roasted in the oven.
Before you can get to cooking, you have to rehydrate the corn kernels for 12 to 14 hours (just as you'd soak beans before boiling them). I dumped a full bag in a metal bowl, covered the kernels with cold water, and left them to sit overnight in the refrigerator.
Drain the kernels and give them a good towel-off. From that point, you can go one of two directions.
1) You can bake them. Preheat the oven to 400° F and line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone mat. Mix the corn kernels with oil (for a 14-ounce bag, use 3 to 4 tablespoons coconut oil or another neutral oil), 1 tablespoon sugar, and 1 tablespoon sea salt, then bake for 30 to 40 minutes, stirring every 10, until golden brown and, occasionally, bursting.
2) Or, you can fry! Heat enough vegetable oil to cover the kernels (about 1 1/2 to 2 inches) in a heavy pot over medium-high heat. When it reaches 350° F or so, stand back and dump in some of the kernels (you'll want to work in batches as to not create multiple bobbing layers).
Fry until golden-brown and crispy-looking, which might take longer than you think. My kernels took about 10 minutes. Drain on a paper towel-lined baking sheet, sprinkling with plenty of salt while still hot.
Fried giant white corn kernels.
So which tastes better: the baked or the deep-fried? While the baked corn nuts have a corn-ier flavor, they also have a chalkier after-taste. The fried nuts were crisper and, surprisingly, less oily—but, admittedly, way more of a pain to make.
Whether you choose to bake or to fry, spice and season the corn nuts however you'd like (with garlic and/or onion powder, smoked paprika, dried herbs, smoked salt, you name it).
Then pour yourself a drink and leave happy hour at the bar for another day.