Add a drop of oil -- nut oils are especially nice! -- if nuts will be used in salads, or as a garnish or snack.
Roasting nuts is a step that some cooks skip, which is unfortunate because this simple effort can really bump a dish (or a cookie!) from good to amazing. Roasting nuts deepens their flavor, making them even more nutty and complex. It also gives them a crisper texture, which is one of the reasons we add nuts to our food.
There are two basic ways to roast nuts in the oven: dry or with a small amount of oil. Read on for instructions for both methods and when you should use them.
Roasting nuts can be a little tricky as they can go from almost done to overdone in less than a minute. You are also dealing with several discrete pieces, some which seem to be roasting faster than others. And they don't spend a lot of time in the oven — usually not more than 15 minutes — so people often say "Why bother?" and skip this step, not wanting to preheat their oven for such a short procedure. But it bears repeating: if your recipe called for roasting the nuts (and sometimes even when it doesn't) be sure to take this important step.
Dry Roasting vs Roasting with Oil: Roasting nuts with a touch of oil is a really nice way to add flavor and crispness. I especially like to match the nut with the oil and have small jars of almond and walnut oil in my refrigerator for that purpose. A neutral oil such as grapeseed oil is fine, too.
But it's not always appropriate to roast nuts with oil, especially when they are being used in a baking as the oil does increase their oiliness and can throw off the recipe. I roast nuts in oil when I am adding them to a salad, for instance, when they will be used as a garnish, or when I want to serve them with an aperitif. In the photos above, I roasted the walnuts dry and the almonds with a little Roasted Walnut Oil from La Tourangelle.
Check and Stir. It is important to check the nuts frequently while they roast and to stir them often. Most ovens have hot spots, so you want to move the nuts around for even roasting. I often focus on moving the nuts from the edges, which can brown sooner than the nuts in the middle.
How To Roast Nuts in the Oven
What You Need
Nuts - any amount
Nut oils or a neutral oil such as grapeseed (optional)
A heavy baking tray or cake pan
A plate or tray for cooling
1. Preheat oven and spread nuts on trays.
Preheat oven to 350°F. Spread the nuts in an even layer on the baking sheet. I often use a cake tin for smaller amounts as the higher sides allow me to shake the the pan to evenly distribute them.
2. Coat with oil. If you are roasting the nuts with oil, drizzle a small amount over the nuts and toss to coat evenly. Use as little oil as possible, starting with just a teaspoon or two.
3. Roast in oven. Place in oven and roast for 5 minutes.
4. Stir. Remove after 5 minutes and stir so that the outer nuts are moved towards the middle and the middle nuts towards the edges. If you are using a cake tin, you can gently shake it to redistribute the nuts. Return to the oven.
5. Check for doneness. Check the nuts again after 3 minutes. You are looking for the color to be a few shades darker. They should start to smell nutty and you might hear them crackling. Return to the oven if needed and check again after another 3 minutes. If they need longer, give another stir. Nuts rarely take longer than 15 minutes to roast, usually closer to 8 to 12 minutes.
6. Remove from the oven and cool. When the nuts are browned and smell nutty, remove from the oven and immediately transfer onto a plate or another baking sheet. Do not cool the nuts on the tray they were baked on or you will risk scorching them.
• A note on alternatives:
Nuts can be roasted in a toaster oven and I confess to doing this now and then. But be warned: they can easily burn in a toaster oven as the heating elements are much closer to the nuts than in a regular oven. Watch them closely! You can also roast nuts in a skillet on the stove top but I find that they seldom roast evenly with this method. Usually there are browned places where the nuts have contacted the hot skillet and pale places where they haven't. An oven assures an even, all-over browning.
• Chopping: If the recipe requires chopping, do this after roasting. It is frightfully easy to burn already chopped nuts since the pieces are so small. Warm nuts also chop more cleanly and with less flaking.
• Pine nuts: Smaller nuts such as pine nuts are notorious for burning quickly. I check them more frequently, usually every 2 minutes or so.
(Images: Dana Velden)
(Image credits: Dana Velden)