by Kate Heyhoe
From ice-cream sundaes to almond pilaf and pecan-crusted chicken, people go nutty for nuts, and bowls of toasted nuts are almost mandatory for holiday nibbles.
Just as toasting bread makes it crisp and flavorful, toasting nuts in a skillet or oven turns them extra crunchy and golden brown. They add irresistible aroma and flavor to all sorts of dishes, and a batch of toasted nuts keeps for months in the freezer, ready to toss into salads, desserts, or right into your mouth for snacking.
Pointers: Don't cook too long, and use medium heat; nuts burn easily.
Toasting nuts may sound like a simple process, and it is. But nuts go from golden-brown to black in a flash. So it's important to cook them just long enough to get a roasted flavor but not so long that they burn. Burned nuts taste unpleasantly bitter; if you do accidentally burn them, it's best to throw the batch out and start over.
Why do nuts burn quickly? Nuts contain oil, which in their case is healthy and nutrient-rich. But oils of all types can become very hot, many times hotter than boiling water. Once heated, oils stay hot for a long time, and the oils in nuts will continue to cook, even after they're removed from the heat. This is known as "carry-over" cooking.
To prevent nuts from burning:
Careful! Don't eat the nuts until they've cooled completely. They may seem cool to the touch, but inside they can still be very hot and may burn your tongue. Protect your hands with oven mitts, and as always, cook with adult supervision until you're allowed to cook on your own.
Favorite nuts for toasting include pecans, walnuts, pine nuts, and almonds, but other nuts can be toasted, too. In each method below, the nuts are done when they release their fragrance and start to turn color. Broken pieces will toast faster than whole nutmeats. After toasting, carefully pour the nuts out of their hot cooking pans and onto a plate to cool.
Stovetop Method: Place a single layer of shelled nuts in a dry skillet. Cook over medium heat, stirring or shaking the pan often. The nuts will take from 3 to 10 minutes to toast, depending on the size and type of nuts. A bit of butter or oil in the pan adds extra flavor, but watch them closely as they cook even quicker this way.
Oven Method: Heat the oven to 350 degrees F. Place the nuts in a single layer on a baking sheet (the kind with low-sides). Bake on the center rack of the oven 5 to 10 minutes, stirring occasionally to prevent burning.
Once you've toasted your nuts, keep them handy for adapting non-nut recipes. You'll be amazed how just a spoonful of toasted nuts can elevate the ordinary to extraordinary.
Kate's Global Kitchen for December 2004:
12/03/04 Christmas Cheer For Cooks: Gift Guide 2004
12/10/04 Nuts to You: The Process of Toasting Nuts
12/17/04 Holiday Light: Veggie Dips 'n' Wonton Chips
12/24/04 Virgin Cocktails and Virile Libations
12/31/04 Graduated Cookery for 2005
Copyright © 2004, Kate Heyhoe. All rights reserved.
This page created 2004 and modified November 2006.
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