Mark Overbay has been thinking about Hot Peanut since he started Big Spoon Roasters in 2011. He stumbled upon the flavor more than a decade before that—in 1999 in Zimbabwe, where he lived and worked as a Peace Corps volunteer. There, his local neighbors roasted peanuts over an open fire, smashed them into butter by hand, and stirred in any number of ingredients. Some went the sweet route with coconut oil or meat. Others, savory with avocado. And others still, fiery with bird's eye chili. The last, especially, had Overbay wide-eyed.
"Conventional wisdom says there are five flavors: sweet, sour, bitter, salty, and umami. I believe there is a sixth," he says. "Heat."
A few years after he left Africa, he crossed paths with the flavor again—this time in Washington, D.C. A friend from Haiti introduced Overbay to his homeland's favorite condiment, spicy peanut butter, which soon became Overbay's equivalent to a millennial's sriracha. He used it to improve anything and everything in his kitchen: toast with apricot jam, raw carrots and celery, sautéed vegetables and rice.
When he eventually decided to start a nut butter business, he knew he wanted to produce his own version. It just took six years to get it right. The flavor, which debuted in September, is the most recent addition to the Big Spoon collection.
"It's been a passion project, for sure," he laughs. "This is an usually long recipe development process."
He tried infusing raw chilies into honey and dried chilies into salt. He tried jalapeños and tobagos and aji dulces. He adjusted and altered, tweaked and tailored, "trying to nail down the right combination of brightness and complexity and smokiness and sweetness."
Finally, he found it: punchy guajillos, dark anchos, floral habaneros, a little kiss from cane sugar and another from salt. The result is addictive enough to, well, eat by the spoonful. But just like Overbay in D.C., I can't stop cooking with it.
When you think of sesame noodles, you're probably thinking of peanut butter noodles, supplemented by a little sesame oil or sesame paste. This version is American-Chinese takeout-style, gratifying and best eaten in bed. Serve with cucumber spears, scallion slivers, and sambal oelek to dollop on top.
1/2 pound whole-wheat spaghetti
5 tablespoons Hot Peanut
2 tablespoons tahini
1 tablespoon black vinegar
1 tablespoon mined ginger
2 garlic cloves, minced or microplaned
5 teaspoons soy sauce
1 teaspoon sriracha
2 tablespoons water, plus more as needed
Boil the spaghetti in salty water until al dente, about 8 minutes. Meanwhile, stir together the rest of the ingredients. Adjust the thickness (water) and spice (sriracha) to your preference. When the noodles are done, drain and add to the sauce. Toss. Chill completely before serving
Satay-Style Peanut Sauce
This Southeast Asia-inspired sauce evokes what you'd expect from chicken satay—or grilled, skewered meat. But don't limit yourself to chicken. Try it with pork ribs, crispy tofu, fried eggplant, summer rolls, and rice bowls. Store any leftovers in the fridge for up to five days. Just make sure to take it out well in advance of serving, as the sauce solidifies when cold.
1/4 cup Hot Peanut
1/4 cup unsweetened coconut milk
1 tablespoon fish sauce
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 teaspoon brown sugar
1 teaspoon teaspoon minced ginger
1 garlic clove, minced or microplaned
Stir together all ingredients until smooth. Add a spoonful or two of water to adjust the thickness to your preference.
Peanut Butter Cocktail Cookies
Cocktail cookies—a term coined by baking guru Dorie Greenspan in her latest cookbook, Dorie's Cookies—are savory cookies, meant for appetizers and drinks (or middle-of-the-night munchies). This recipe draws inspiration from classic peanut butter crisscrosses but omits most of the sugar and swaps in spice instead. Imagine salty, spiced peanuts and ice-cold beer—just better.
4 ounces unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 cup Hot Peanut
3 tablespoons sugar
1 egg yolk
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line two baking sheets with parchment.
Combine the butter, Hot Peanut, and sugar in the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Cream until combined, about 1 minute. Add the egg yolk and mix to combine. Add the salt and baking soda and mix to combine. Slowly add the flour and mix to combine, scraping the sides of the bowl as needed.
Scoop the cookies by the tablespoon on the prepared baking sheets, spacing them a few inches apart. Smush flat with your palm and decorate with the prongs of a fork into crisscrosses. Bake for about 15 minutes, until the bottoms and edges begin to brown.
Cool completely before serving with very cold drinks.
This article appeared in print with the headline "Hot Take."