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How To Toast Pecans

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This technique works for most types of raw nuts: pecans, walnuts, almonds, etc. It intensifies the flavor of the nuts and makes them a bit crunchier. Perfect for salad toppings and baking into breads. This is just one method, I’ll describe a few others below.

Directions

I start with shelled nuts. I don’t mind sitting there with a nut cracker snacking while watching TV, but when I need a bunch I go for the convenience.

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If you’re going to chop the nuts, do it before toasting. The more surface area you have, the more “toastiness” you’ll end up with.

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There are several options for toasting: stovetop or in the oven; dry or with oil, butter or cooking spray. You can find people who swear by each method. The only one I’ll never use is cooking spray, because that’s not food. So of the methods I would choose from, here are the pros and cons:

Stovetop vs. oven: Stovetop is faster and it’s easier to keep an eye on the nuts to make sure they don’t burn. But the finish is less even — you’ll have dark spots where the nuts touched the pan — and you have to keep the pan moving the whole time.

Oil or butter vs. dry: Any kind of fat will make the finish more even, especially on the stovetop. The fat will potentially add some flavor, and the finished nuts will have more of an oily finish. This could be good, as it will help salt and other seasonings stick. And more butter flavor is rarely a bad thing for any food.

This batch was going to go in a salad, so I wanted crunchy and dry but without adding a lot of other flavors, so I went with dry on the stovetop. Heat a non-stick pan over high heat until extremely hot, then turn the heat down to medium. The quick blast of heat when you first add the nuts will extract some oil from the nuts, just enough to keep them from sticking or scorching.

SAFETY NOTE: Nonstick cooking surfaces are not rated for extremely high heat. If you leave the pan on high with nothing in it for as little as five minutes it can reach a dangerously high temperature, both damaging the cooking surface and possibly releasing toxic fumes. Don’t walk away while preheating, and don’t cook in it if you notice any odor at all before adding the nuts.

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Keep the pan moving, tossing the nuts so they don’t keep sitting the same way down or you’ll burn the bottom.

If you thought you saw some nuts flying out of the pan, it was just static in the video. Really, I promise. If you’re not confident with tossing the nuts, turn them over with a spatula or wooden spoon several times while cooking.

As soon as they start looking darker and you can smell the toastiness, get the pan off the heat and dump the nuts out. Nuts can go from finished to burned pretty quickly, and will even keep cooking for bit after removing them from the pan.

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And that’s it.

Other methods

To use butter or oil on the stovetop, toss the nuts in the oil or melted butter before putting them in the pan. Also, don’t heat the pan up so much before adding the nuts. Just start at medium heat and keep it there.

In the oven, use a non-stick cookie sheet if you have one. Otherwise you should probably oil or butter the nuts before putting them on your baking sheet. Cook at 400° for 5-10 minutes, turning the nuts over with a spatula once halfway through. Stay close, and check them every minute or so after turning them over. Just like the stovetop method, they’re done when you see the color get darker and you can smell the toastiness.

PS: I used the word “toastiness” three times in this post and my spellchecker keeps saying it’s not a word. If I say it and you know what I mean, then it’s a word. So there.

Want more like this? For more recipes like this, that you can hold right in your hands, and write on, take notes, tear pages out if you want (Gosh, you're tough on books, aren't you?) you might be interested in How To Cook Like Your Grandmother, 2nd edition, Illustrated. Or to learn your way around the kitchen, check out Starting From Scratch: The Owner's Manual for Your Kitchen.

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