Boiled Peanuts with a Japanese and Mexican Kick

For one Top Chef, perfecting his spicy take on a Southern favorite became an obsession

Photo: courtesy of Katsuji Tanabe

When Katsuji Tanabe’s family visits from Mexico, he makes a point to serve boiled peanuts. The Chopped champion and executive chef of A’Verde Cocina and Tequila Library in Cary, North Carolina, views the dish as a vessel for the “Southern charm of the area.” Tanabe himself came to the regional roadside staple late in life, having grown up in Mexico City with Japanese and Mexican parents. He immigrated to the United States at age eighteen and worked his way through California, Chicago, and New York before settling in the South as “culinary innovator” of LM Restaurants. While filming Top Chef in Charleston, South Carolina, years ago, Tanabe and his fellow contestants stopped at a boiled peanuts stall, giving him his first taste of the savory snack.

photo: Forrest Mason
Chef Katsuji Tanabe.

“As a chef, the food in the area around you inspires you. I always thought of peanuts as crunchy, but these were good,” he says. “I talked to the vendors about how they prepare them and tried to make them more gourmet and chef-y. It became an obsession.”

He added lime, hot sauce, and chiles from his Mexican heritage, plus soy and Worcestershire sauces to nod to his Japanese background. Though the spice list is fairly long, the method—toss everything into a pressure cooker—couldn’t be simpler. “The peanut is the perfect vehicle to carry these flavors because it soaks in everything,” he says. “It’s a very easy, approachable dish. It’s given me a sense of pride living in the South.”


  • Katsuji Tanabe's Boiled Peanuts

    • 2 lbs. green peanuts

    • 1 tbsp. fish sauce

    • 1 tsp. dashi powder

    • 2 tbsp. Worcestershire sauce

    • 2 tbsp. soy sauce

    • 1 tbsp. Maggi sauce

    • ½ cup apple cider vinegar

    • 2 tbsp. chopped, canned chipotles

    • 2 cloves of garlic

    • 2 serrano peppers, sliced

    • 1 habanero pepper, sliced

    • 1 tsp. cumin powder

    • 1 tsp. cinnamon powder

    • ½ cup water

    • 1 large shallot, sliced

    • 2 tsp. fresh cracked pepper

    • 2 tbsp. unsalted butter


  1. Combine all the ingredients into a pressure cooker or Instant Pot. Cook for 1 hour. Release the pressure and let the peanuts cool slightly. Do not drain. 

  2. If a pressure cooker is not available, simmer ingredient mixture with 2 additional cups of water for 3 hours, adding water as it cooks. (Without liquid, the peanuts will retain too much seasoning.)

  3. Freeze leftovers in an airtight plastic bag.