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Peanut & Popcorn Watermelon Brûlée

Edward Lee

Lesson time 19 min

Edward explores the complexity of watermelon with this whimsical salad. Simple techniques like stove-popping buttery popcorn, boiling and frying peanuts, and creating a crunchy Brûlée top make up this surprising plate.

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– You know, simplicity, innocence. We think we know everything about food and we really don’t. Two things that you can make in your house. Two things that are, are just staple ingredients, you can find everywhere. I’m gonna show you how we’re gonna take this and elevate it and make something that’s a stunning restaurant worthy dish. So we’re gonna do a watermelon salad. This to me is the most quintessentially Southern dish, watermelon, peanuts, popcorn. All of these things are very iconically Southern. And this dish actually came about because I was hanging out with my daughter and she loves watermelon. I mean, she eats her weight and watermelon and one day she started to put popcorn on it and ate it together. It was just one of those magical moments where I looked at her and thought she was absolutely insane. And I was like, huh I’ve never done that before, but I could see it actually working and then I tried it and it was delicious. That really got me inspired and I started to think like what can I… I can’t just serve watermelon popcorn at my restaurant. So I started to think like, can I add some more elements to it? Can I add a couple of more layers out of these really simple, humble ingredients, like popcorn and watermelon? All right, we’ll make some popcorn today. We’re gonna make some popcorn the old fashioned way Shall we? We’re gonna throw a little bit of neutral oil. Remember I wanna pop the popcorn at a really high temperature. So no olive oil here we want something neutral, canola oil, corn oil, I’ll say even peanut oil works. I wanna get that super hot, make sure you have a lid. I’ve got some kernels. Now, remember each little kernel is gonna end up quadrupling in size. So when you put your kernels in there just eyeball it so that you’re not gonna have this much popcorn. And then you can’t fill this pan with popcorn. It’s really just a handful. Let’s test our oil. Alright, hot, hot, hot I feel nice heat coming off this pan. I’m gonna dump in, not that much. We’re gonna wait for that to pop, put my lid over the top. Every oil has what it calls a smoking point or a burning point. And that is the temperature at which the oil will actually denature. And it will start to burn and you don’t want burnt oil. So when you’re cooking something where you need a really hot application, you wanna use an oil that has a really high smoking point. Burnt oil is actually a carcinogen it’s not healthy for you and also tastes rancid. So you don’t want that. Here’s your first popcorn coming right now. Once you see that first a tonal going, you wanna make sure to shake your pan ’cause you don’t wanna burn your kernels and you don’t wanna burn your popcorn. So I’ve got my heat on pretty high so you can see. And just keep shaking that pan. There’s nothing better than fresh popcorn. Now, when you get to the end, you can turn your heat off. So you don’t burn your popcorn. Your pan is still gonna be hot. So if there’s any unpopped kernels they’ll still pop. Right? When you think the last kernel is popped drop some butter in the pan. And keep shaking that up. And then you want your salt, sprinkle your salt right over the popcorn. Let that butter melt and coat your popcorn. That’s it you’re good. It’s a wonderful little afternoon snack, but it also is a really nice ingredient for a salad. All right, we’re gonna move on to fried peanuts next. I’m gonna show you this really simple recipe to make a beautiful, delicious fried peanut boiling the peanuts in a little bit of sugar and water. So for this you do wanna measure pretty carefully. Two cups of water. And you want the equal amount of sugar. So if I put two cups of water I want two cups of sugar. All right, let’s put the heat on. Okay, this is gonna come up to a boil. I’m gonna flavor this with a little bit of worcester, Alright so basically I’m making a simple syrup equal part sugar, water but I wanna push it a little bit towards the savory side. So I added the worcester and once all that sugar is melted and your simple syrup is coming up to a simmer. You can go ahead and add your peanuts. Just to give that an occasional stir, but there’s really not much to do here at this point. We’re basically willing the peanuts. We’re gonna go for about eight to 10 minutes. You’d really don’t want the peanuts to get so soft they turn into mush but you want that sugar water to penetrate into the peanuts. Let it hang out for about 10 minutes. All right so about 10 minutes or so peanuts are good. Let’s test one out. They’ll be hot, Perfect. So peanuts have gotten tender. They’ve absorbed some of that sweetness. They still have resistance just still a bite to them. You don’t want them super super soft. Now I’m gonna straighten them out. So have a bowl nearby and a strainer. And what we’re gonna do is, perfect. So let’s do this. I’m gonna lay my peanuts on a plate and just let them cool off and dry off. They’re all coated in this sugar water right now, but I want that to just cool off to room temp. And I don’t want them sticking together because they are kind of sticky and sweet right now. So I’m just kinda lay them out in a flat single layer. And meanwhile I’m gonna get my oil ready. So again, high temperature oil. So we’re gonna add a canola oil to a shallow pan, and we’re gonna let that come up to temperature. You don’t need this oil to be as hard as you’d normally would for frying. So about 300 degrees is perfect. And by the time that gets up to temperature, these will be room temperature, and there’ll be ready to go. So there’s a tradition in the South called boiled peanuts. And it’s basically a very long and slow boiling peanuts in the shell. And it’s a popular snack you can find them all over the South. And this is a kind of a little bit of a play on it. Obviously I’m boiling the peanuts but not in the shell but we’re adding that sugar to it. And then we’re gonna deep fry it and you’re gonna get sort of this tender peanut on the inside. but it’s still has a little bit of a crunch so it’s almost like an al dente boiled peanut. We’re not quite boiling it as far as you would find it in a boiled peanuts snack. So whenever your oil is ready I’ll always start with just one peanut and it kinda just as a little tester. You’ll see if the oil is hot, you’ll see the bubbles start to come up immediately. So we’re pretty much ready to go. Now this happens fast so when we’re ready have your strainer handy that you had before and have a either stainless steel or really really heavy heat resistant bowl. And then we’re just going to dump the peanuts in to the frying oil. You wanna give that just a gentle stir you don’t wanna mess with this hot oil and you don’t want to splatter it on you. So just a gentle nudging of the peanuts is plenty. And you’ll see it’s gonna start to take on a really dark color very fast and you will burn your peanuts pretty quickly here. So you wanna make sure to watch it, right when it gets to that toasty golden brown color we’re gonna take it out and straighten it right away. Its almost there see how it’s toasting. What’s actually happening right now is the peanuts have all that sugar in there and the oil is actually caramelizing that sugar. There you go and we’re ready. All right this part be really, really careful okay? You got your oil, get your strainer that you had before. Vwallah! Now do not touch that oil or this pan. Just leave it there and let it cool off. Okay. You’re gonna take this and again, just going to lay them out. They’re still sizzling you can hear them. Now I just dust it with a little bit of salt and just a pinch of extra sugar right there. Perfect. Toss them around a little bit. Fried peanuts. All right, so we’ve got our beautifully fresh popped corn fried peanuts. We’re gonna make this watermelon salad. We’ve got some beautiful, fresh mint, got some nice flaky salt, and I’ve got some olive oil and a little bit of sugar. So one of the things I want to talk about with the watermelon. We all know that this is the sweet part, all right? And we all get to the edge and then we throw it away. But why? This part of the green or the white of the watermelon is actually really delicious. Obviously it’s not sweet, but we’re going to make a savory type salad with this. And it has a beautiful flavor It’s almost like a mild radish flavor. I hate to throw that away. So I’m going to actually incorporate that into my salad. This outer green rind, a little bit hard to eat really Woody. So, but I want to preserve that white there. So what I’m gonna do is I’m gonna take my veggie peeler. I’m gonna just start peeling this watermelon on the outside. All of that. So now I take off that woody exterior, but I’ve preserved all this really nice savory watermelon. And one of the things you can do with this watermelon obviously in the South here, we pickle the watermelon ride. Okay. Mmh, perfect. So at this point here, I’m gonna cut a nice thick round of watermelon. Okay. So now with this watermelon I’m gonna present it and you can eat it all the way up to the rind. Cut it in half, cut it nice big wedge of it. You’ve probably had a dessert before called crème brûlée. It’s a French dessert and it’s a custard and basically has a nice, thin layer of brown sugar on top. And we’re gonna take that same concept but we’re going to do it to the watermelon. So basically I’m just going to dust the top. And don’t be afraid to put a nice layer on it You kinda wanna make sure that it’s covered and also go all the way to the rind. All right, Let’s burn something shall we? We’re gonna start to torch our watermelon. All right, beautiful. I’ve got a nice thin sheet of caramelized sugar right on top. And it’s actually when it dries it’s going to harden it and turn into a little bit of a candy. I haven’t really cooked the watermelon because really all I’m doing is caramelizing the sugars. So the watermelon is still nice and cold and raw in the inside. But when you taste it you’re gonna have this beautiful, refreshing sweet watermelon with this nice thin layer of a crisp, burnt flavor. And as you know there’s nothing I like more than burnt flavor. And actually transfer this so we don’t get that excess sugar, transfer to a new plate. And now we’re going to add our other ingredients. So really simple we’re gonna decorate this watermelon with a little bit of fried peanuts on top. What we in the South called Benny seed also known as sesame seed goes right on top of that. Okay, and then on top of that you want some popcorn in it. Before you do it take your popcorn on your cutting board and just smash it a little bit so you’re not getting huge kernels its almost gonna mimic cheese just want some nice crumbles right on top of your watermelon. Beautiful, and let it fall over the side a little bit right? Now we’ve got some fresh mint it is a tender herb so sometimes chopping it for me kind of bruises the mint up. And for this it’s so tender this salad is so fresh and so vibrant and bright that I just wanna tear the mint into pieces. I want nice big chunks of in there. And then here’s the little flaky salt we’re gonna drizzle a little bit of really nice, good, quality olive oil at this point. Right over the surface of everything. And a little bit around the plate as well. So a little extra love. And the last thing, we’re gonna zest a little bit of lime zest over everything just a few scrapes. Give that a slice and finish it with just a few drops of lime juice. All right so here you have it watermelon and popcorn a child’s dish re-imagined as something that you would be proud to serve to any guests in your home or at any fancy restaurant.

About the Instructor

James Beard Award winning writer and best-selling cookbook author Edward Lee takes viewers from the farm to his restaurants and home in Louisville, Kentucky and teaches lessons on his beloved dishes including Fried Chicken with Gochujang Sauce, Oysters and Grits, Cabbage-Steamed Fish, and more.

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