I am often asked what I miss from the U.S. Twenty years ago I had a whole list of things. Ziplock bags. Plush towels. Good coffee. Tax laws I understood. Ready smiles. Organic cheetos. Tillamook or Cougar Gold cheddar. And that one standby, really good peanut butter.
Today, all of those things have faded, excepting really good peanut butter. I can buy peanut butter here, of course. It comes in a can with a smiling blond boy on the outside, and a lot of things besides peanuts on the inside. I can even find Jiffy sometimes. But those aren’t really good peanut butter. So, being a peanut butter fan and having children who follow suit and have even convinced some of their French friends to enjoy it (the French generally don’t appreciate peanut butter – witness Christophe), I make my own.
Why is Christophe trying so hard to like peanut butter, and why have my kids have to “convince” their friends to enjoy it? Because peanut butter is a foreign taste to the French. It’s strong and intense, and the texture is gummy. While Christophe usually loves the tastes he has of my culinary experiences when he’s working on the house, this time he wasn’t so sure. And that is why it’s impossible to find great peanut butter in France. If the French loved it, they’d find a way to make it better than anyone else! For now, I stand in their stead.
Making peanut butter is simple. I get really good raw peanuts (grown in the U.S.), roast them until they’re deep gold, then whir them in the Cuisinart for 10 whole minutes (it takes at least that long). The nuts go through phases from crumbly to thick to, finally, almost liquid but still with toothsome chunks. I add sea salt – sometimes even fleur de sel like I did yesterday – to taste and voila! I have really GREAT peanut butter.
As a kid, I went off to school every single day with a peanut butter and apricot jam sandwich. I still love that, on crisp baguette, the jam being home made. Otherwise, we love it with fruit, with McVitty’s Digestives, stirred into a sauce or a soup to thicken and flavor, and occasionally right off the spoon.
I’m fully integrated here in France, which doesn’t mean I don’t make a beeline when in the U.S. to the organic cheetos, stock up on ziplocks (I can’t find the right size here), drink plenty of coffee (though it’s gotten a million times better here) and savor aged Tillamook or Cougar Gold.
But even fully integrated, the flavor of great peanut butter and the insouciant memories that go along with it, never get old.
REALLY GREAT PEANUT BUTTER
1 pound (500g) peanuts
1 teaspoon fleur de sel
1. Preheat the oven to 375F (190C).
2. Place the peanuts in an even layer on a jellyroll pan. When the oven is heated, place them in the oven and roast until they are golden, which will take about 15 minutes. Don’t go too far away – every batch of peanuts roasts differently, so you’ll need to check on them occasionally.
3. When the peanuts are roasted, let them cool for 5 minutes, then transfer them to a food processor and puree. They should still be quite warm – this helps the oil emerge. At first the peanuts will be chunky, then they will get thick you’ll think you need to add oil. Don’t. Leave them in the food processor until they are liquid, then add the salt and mix. Taste for seasoning. When the peanut butter is cool, place it in a jar and refrigerate.
1-2/3 cups (410ml) peanut butter