Put out a bowl of good nuts and it doesn’t matter whether it’s one person or 20, you’ve got a party.
They’re also about the fastest things you can make and have on hand for gifts or taking along during the entertaining season. With Halloween falling on a Saturday, it’s the kickoff to this year’s full-on party season.
Unfortunately, though, not all party nuts are good party nuts. Some are too salty. Some are too greasy. Some just don’t have enough flavor.
For the best nuts for parties and gifts, try one of these four techniques:
1. Candied. There are endless ways to candy nuts, but lately I’ve been drawn to maple syrup. You don’t want to mess with burned sugar or caramelizing, and you don’t get nuts that stick in your teeth.
2. Coated. The best base is egg white, beaten just until foamy. It gives the spices something to stick to, and it bakes up with just a hint of crispness. Stir halfway through so they don’t stick together.
3. Buttered. If you coat nuts with butter and then roast them, they’ll get too dark and taste burned. Instead, toast the nuts in a dry skillet, then toss them with the butter and seasonings.
4. Fried. This can be as simple as warming olive oil, stirring in raw nuts and adding fresh herbs, dried spices and salt. However, for a really great fried nut, reach back to Chinese Fried Walnuts, a classic recipe that involves boiling the nuts briefly, tossing with sugar and then frying until crisp.
Chinese Fried Walnuts
This recipe started making the rounds in the 1970s after Good Housekeeping magazine ran a version from editor Mildred Yang, who based it on a traditional Chinese snack. It takes a couple of steps, but it’s worth bringing it back.
6 cups water
4 cups shelled walnuts
1/2 cup sugar
About 3 cups peanut or canola oil
Salt to taste
Bring the water to a boil in a large saucepan. Add the walnuts, return to boil and cook 1 minute. Drain, rinse under hot tap water and drain again. Pour the drained nuts into a bowl, add the sugar and toss to coat completely with the sugar.
Pour oil about 1 inch deep in a deep skillet or pot. Heat to 350 degrees. (Use a deep-fry or candy thermometer that isn’t touching the bottom of the pot. Don’t get the oil too hot, or the nuts will burn. If it’s too cold, they won’t get as crispy.)
Using a slotted spoon, add about half the nuts to the oil (watch out, the oil will bubble up) and cook, stirring occasionally, until lightly golden brown, about 3 to 4 minutes. They’ll continue to cook a little after you remove them from the pot, so don’t get them too dark.
Remove the nuts with a slotted spoon and place in a colander or sieve over a bowl to drain. Sprinkle with salt and stir as they cool so they don’t stick together. Spread on a sheet of wax paper to cool completely. Reheat the oil and repeat with the rest of the nuts.
Cool and store in an airtight container.
Yield: About 4 cups.
Chinese Five-Spice Pecans
From “Martha Stewart’s Appetizers” (Clarkson Potter, 2015).
1 large egg white
1/3 cup packed dark brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 tablespoon tamari or low-sodium soy sauce
1 teaspoon Chinese five-spice powder
1/2 teaspoon coarse salt
5 cups pecan halves
Preheat oven to 250 degrees. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper and set aside.
Whisk the egg white until foamy in a large bowl. Whisk in both sugars, soy sauce, five-spice powder and salt. Add the pecans and toss to coat.
Spread coated nuts in a single layer on the baking sheet. Bake, stirring occasionally, for about 1 hour 10 minutes, until golden brown. Cool completely and break the nuts apart. Store in an airtight container up to 2 weeks.
Yield: 5 cups.
Bacon Bar Nuts
Adapted from “Fun Food Fast,” by the editors of Good Housekeeping (Hearst, 2015). The original called for roasted, salted peanuts, but I like the mix of other nuts. If you use the peanuts, skip the salt.
6 slices bacon
2-3 cups mixed nuts (pecans, walnuts and almonds)
1 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
Cut the bacon into 1/2-inch wide pieces and place in a 10- to 12-inch skillet over medium heat. Cook, stirring often, until mostly brown. Pour off the fat, but leave the bacon in the skillet.
Add the nuts, sugar and salt. Cook, stirring frequently, about 4 to 5 minutes, until nuts are lightly brown but not burned. Stir in the cayenne in the last minute of cooking.
Remove from heat and cool completely. Store in an airtight container.
Yield: 2 1/2 to 3 1/2 cups.
Maple Spiced Pecans
From “Maple,” by Katie Webster (Quirk, 2015).
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1/4 cup dark pure maple syrup, such as Grade B or Grade A Dark Amber
2 cups pecan halves
1 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
1/2 teaspoon salt
Heat oven to 350 degrees. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper.
Place the butter in a large mixing bowl and microwave briefly, about 20 seconds, to melt. Stir in the maple syrup. Add the pecans, pumpkin pie spice and salt, and stir to coat well.
Spread nuts in a single layer on the baking sheet and bake 8 to 10 minutes, until maple syrup is bubbling. Stir nuts and return to oven for 4 to 5 minutes. Remove from oven and cool completely.
Store in an airtight container for 2 or 3 days.
Yield: 3 cups.
Buttered, Salted Pecans
When I wrote the book “Pecans” for the Savor the South series from UNC Press, I tried every way of making great buttered pecans. Roasting them often makes them taste burned, and sauteing in butter can overwhelm the pecan flavor. I finally settled on this simple method.
3 cups pecan halves
1 tablespoon butter
1 teaspoon kosher salt
Spread the pecans in a single layer in a large, dry skillet. Place over medium heat. Cook, stirring frequently and watching carefully for scorching, about 8 to 10 minutes. The pecans should be very fragrant and just starting to darken but shouldn’t have any burned spots.
Pour the pecans into a heatproof bowl. Add the butter and stir until it is melted and the pecans are lightly coated. Sprinkle with the salt, stirring to coat. Cool and store in an airtight container up to 2 or 3 days.
Yield: 3 cups.