It's always more fun to DIY. Every week, we'll spare you a trip to the grocery store and show you how to make small batches of great foods at home.
A while back, my husband brought back a bag of something completely non-sensical from work: "mala" peanut brittles. If you are at all familiar with terms from the Sichuan region in China, you know that “mala,” which means “numbing and spicy,” directly implies the presence of notoriously hot Sichuan peppercorns. They are great in savoury dishes, of course, but I couldn’t help but wonder if Sichuan peppercorns would make sense in something like caramel-coated peanuts.
They do. Oh yes, they do. The first thing that hits you is a prominent floral flavor from the finely crushed red peppercorns. Then, it quickly marries to the nuttiness of the caramel, the peppery spiciness, and saltiness of the peanuts. Your taste buds will be profoundly confused: What is this salty, sweet, peppery, and numbing thing that I'm eating, and more importantly, why can't I stop?! You just can't stop eating it. It's that kind of food.
Luckily, replicating it in my own kitchen wasn't at all difficult. All that's needed is some high-quality red Sichuan peppercorns and dried chili flakes, and you are in for a wild ride. If you are into totally senseless and mysteriously addictive snacks, this craziness will hit the sweet spot, guaranteed.
Makes, roughly, a 12 x 9-inch sheet of brittle
Sichuan peppercorn and dried chili peanuts
2 teaspoons chili flakes, preferably from Sichuan or Korea
2 tablespoons beaten egg white
3 cups (390 grams) roasted salted peanuts
1 1/2 teaspoons red Sichuan peppercorns, finely crushed
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/3 teaspoon baking soda
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 1/3 cups granulated sugar
2/3 cup water
1/3 cup corn syrup
1/3 teaspoon salt
Note: 1 1/2 teaspoons of red Sichuan peppercorns will give the brittle a forceful punch. If you are more of a Sichuan peppercorn beginner, you can start with 1 teaspoon first and see how that suits you. Also, the recipe is based on the assumption that store-bought salted peanuts are usually lightly salted. If for some reason your roasted salted peanuts are potato chip-salty, you might have to reduce the 1/2 teaspoon of salt to 1/4 teaspoon.
Preheat the oven on 350° F. Finely crush the Sichuan peppercorns in a mortar and pestle or spice grinder. In a large bowl, fold the beaten egg white and salted peanuts together until evenly coated. Then, add the crushed peppercorn, chili flakes, and salt, and fold again until evenly mixed.
Spread over a parchment paper-lined baking sheet and bake in the oven for 6 to 7 minutes, scrambling them with a fork once in between, until the surface of the peanuts are dry. Let the peanuts cool completely on the baking sheet.
Cover the peanuts with 2 layers of plastic wrap, then smash them with a hammer to crush about 1/3 of them into small pieces, leaving the rest of the peanuts whole or in large pieces.
Transfer the peanuts to a bowl and mix with the baking soda. Put the unsalted butter on top (this will make it easier to add the peanuts to the caramel). Set aside.
Apply a little bit of cooking-spray over a sheet of parchment paper and a spatula, or rub both with a bit of oil. Set aside.
In a large pot, add granulated sugar, water, corn syrup, and salt, and cook over medium-high heat. Stir gently with a wooden spoon only occasionally, and cook until the mixture turns from completely clear to a light amber color. This will take very roughly 15 to 20 minutes, but keep your eye on the sugar.
Once the sugar turns light amber, turn off the heat immediately. Give it a couple more seconds (the color will continue to darken very fast), then add the peanuts with the baking soda and unsalted butter. Quickly stir the mixture with a wooden spoon until it’s evenly mixed, and the foaming has subsided.
Pour the mixture onto the oiled parchment paper and spread it with the oiled spatula. If it’s cooling too quickly and becomes un-spreadable, cover it with another piece of parchment paper and a kitchen towel and and press it down with your hands.
Once it's flattened, chill your brittle in the fridge for 15 minutes to cool it down. Shatter the brittle with a hammer, or cut with a knife. Keep in an air-tight container for 1 week.
Photos by Mandy Lee