I think it's curious that Americans are among the upper 10 percent of the world's population in per capita consumption of peanuts -- but we use them in very few prepared dishes.
We eat most of our peanuts roasted and salted, or in peanut butter. I know from my travels in the South that in many places plain boiled peanuts are eaten like popcorn. But that's about all. We rarely use them in cooking.
On a recent trip to Jamaica, I was surprised to find many excellent dishes prepared with peanuts. And the outstanding dish did not appear to be Jamaican at all. It was pork with peanuts, Szechwan style.
How does Szechwan food get onto Jamaican menus? First, many small restaurants oon the island are owned and operated by Chinese, and they have a mixed menu, with varying emphasis on Chinese cooking.
Second, for a couple of hundred years Jamaica has been a crossroads of nations. Its ports have welcomed ships under so many flags from so many parts of the world that the Jamaicans have developed a cuisine that borrows from Chinese, Indian, British, American, French and who knows what other sources.
Whether it was the local red peppers or the Jamaican-made soy sauce, or just the good balmy air, a long morning swim and a pleasant walk on the beach, I found the Szechwan pork and peanuts delicious. It was not easy to extract the recipe from the polite manager of the White Way, the small Chinese restaurant in Ocho Rios where I ate. But we re-created it very nicely in our test kitchen.
Pork is not expensive these days, and it is not as fat as many people think. What's great about this dish is that a 4-ounce serving with a bowl of rice will give you as much food satisfaction as a 10-ounce steak. So even on a diet you don't have to worry about calories.
You might serve a big green salad with it. SZECHWAN PORK AND PEANUTS (4 to 6 servings) 2 center-cut pork chops (or other lean pork, well-trimmed), about 8 ounces total 1 cup salted peanuts 2 cups water 2 tablespoons peanut oil or corn oil 3 tablespoons light soy sauce 1 tablespoon Jamaican rum (optional) 1/2 teaspoon salt 3 tablespoons sugar 1 clove garlic mashed to a pulp with flat surface of a knife 1 tablespoon vinegar 1 tablespoon molasses 1/3 cup water 2 bunches green onions (10 to 12 very young, or about 8 more mature), sliced fine from white bottom to about middle of green 1 cup oil 1 tablespoon sesame oil 2 or 3 dried red pepper pods (dried chili peppers) 6 to 8 whole allspice 2 or 3 tablespoons Pickapepper sauce (a liquid condiment from Jamaica available in many groceries -- or substitute a good steak sauce)
Trim pork chops of all fat and bone, cut into 1/2-inch cubes. Bring peanuts to a boil in 2 cups water. Discard water. Rinse peanuts with cold water through a strainer and pat dry.
In a small bowl, mix 2 tablespoons peanut or corn oil, 1 tablespoon soy sauce and rum. Marinate pork cubes in this mixture at least 1 hour. Mix remaining 2 tablespoons soy sauce with salt, sugar, mashed garlic, vinegar, molasses and 1/3 cup water until thoroughly mixed and smooth. Add green onions and set aside.
Heat 1 cup oil in a large skillet. Stir-fry pork in hot oil until brown and cooked (about 8 to 10 minutes). Remove to absorbent paper and keep warm. Discard oil and wipe skillet with paper towel.
Heat sesame oil over medium heat. Add dried red peppers (if you are a beginner in Szechwan food, use only 1 to 2 and taste for "hotness"; later you may graduate to a handful of peppers) and slightly bruised allspice and cook until peppers turn black. Add pork cubes, peanuts, vinegar-molasses mixture. Mix well and cook 3 minutes, stirring constantly, then stir in Pickapepper.