You remember “the files are in the computer” scene out of Zoolander, right? (If not, now is the time to run off and get googling.) I recently witnessed the food-world equivalent of that when serving these spice-brined walnuts.
My friend took a bite then knit her brow in confusion as she tried to understand how they were so flavorful when there was no seasoning in sight. It took some serious convincing (I even pulled out my recipe tests) and repeated explanations until she had the revelation that the flavoring was in the walnut. But that’s what’s so amazing about this recipe — instead of coating the walnuts in spices only to have them fall off, the flavor infiltrates every nook and groove of the walnut.
The brine works a little culinary magic that results in slow-roasted walnuts that are infused with a subtle mix of orange, pepper, and cinnamon flavors. I came across the idea when I came across a brined pecan recipe on Food52 and knew I had to try it for myself. So, when I started working with the folks at California Walnuts, I was eager to try the same technique with walnuts. The result is this spiced and brined walnut that’s fabulous as a snack or as a salad topping sub for the ever-ubiquitous glazed nuts garnish.
Honestly though, you’re going to have to try them for yourself to see what I mean. And be sure to share them so you can watch your friends stare in awe as they try to surmise how these seemingly regular walnuts got packed with so much flavor.
Orange, Bay, and Spice-Brined Walnut Recipe
- Makes: 3 cups (12 servings as an appetizer or snack)
- Total Time: 45 minutes to 1 hour, plus 12 to 24 hours of brining time
- Hands-On Time: 5 minutes
- 2 cups water
- 3 tablespoons unrefined cane sugar
- 2 tablespoons kosher salt
- Strips of 1-inch by 3-inch peel from 2 medium oranges
- 1 tablespoon black peppercorns
- 4 bay leaves
- 1 cup ice cubes (about 6 ice cube tray cubes)
- 1 (3-inch) cinnamon stick
- 3 cups raw walnut halves (about 10 ounces)
Combine water, sugar, salt, orange peel, peppercorns, and bay leaves in a medium saucepan and bring to a simmer over medium heat. Stir to dissolve the sugar and salt then remove from heat.
Pour brine into a large bowl, add ice cubes, cinnamon, and nuts, cover, and set aside to soak at least 12 and up to 24 hours.
Heat oven to 250°F and arrange a rack in the middle. Drain walnuts then spread walnuts on a rimmed baking sheet and roast, stirring occasionally, until walnuts are dry, toasted, and slightly crunchy, about 45 minutes to 1 hour.
Remove from oven and set aside to cool slightly. Walnuts can be served slightly warm or at room temperature. (Walnuts can be made up to 1 week ahead and stored at room temperature.)
Fine Print: I’ll be working with the California Walnut Board for the next few months to create recipes and share fun ways to cook with walnuts. Each month I’ll share one or two of the recipes I crafted for them and I hope you’ll enjoy them too!