The Actual Best Way to Toast Nuts
Never be stymied by that line of a recipe again.
How many times have you been looking at a recipe that calls for toasted nuts and thought to yourself, "what exactly does toasted mean and how do I achieve that?" And if I can buy the nut “roasted” is that the same as “toasted” or are they interchangeable, and does it really matter that much if I toast the nuts or can I fudge it with untoasted, and why am I thinking so much about nuts?
Toasting nuts is one of those techniques that is sometimes a bit presumptive on the part of recipe writers. In no small part because the explication of toasting nuts is kind of tedious and annoying. In fact, anytime you see a prep direction listed in the ingredients section of a recipe, you have a recipe writer who just does not possess the current bandwidth to write how to chop an onion for the zillionth time, and I am just as guilty of this shortcut as the rest.
First off, yes, when the recipe says to toast the nuts, toast the nuts. Toasted nuts are deeper in flavor, a better texture, and have had their essential oils released, and their natural sugars intensified. So, it is a step not to skip. Roasted nuts, which can be purchased sometimes in stores can be a good substitute if you really don’t want to toast your own but be careful to see if they are salted or not. But in a pinch, if your option is raw or roasted, go roasted.
The old joke among cooks is that when you want to toast nuts, first throw half your nuts right in the garbage, because at least 45 perrcent of the time you will burn the first batch, so tossing them right away tells the universe that you recognize this truth and are skipping to the good part. I don’t actually recommend this, because nuts are expensive, but it is a lesson that toasting nuts is not a multi-tasking activity. They go from perfect to garbage in the pan of seconds, so you can’t take your eyes off them.
You have two options in the toasting process: stovetop or oven. Oven can be more even and consistent, stovetop can be faster. Pick whichever makes the most sense to you. Always toast your nuts whole and then chop if chopping is needed. Toasted nuts actually chop easier than raw anyway.
To oven toast, heat your oven to 400 degrees and put a rack in the upper third of the oven. Lay your nuts in an even layer in a sheet pan. Toast for 5 minutes, then check. Do not leave the kitchen, do not walk away from the oven, keep the light on and a keen eye on them. If not toasted to your desired goldenness and crispiosity, keep checking in one-minute increments. Remove when the nuts have deepened in color and smell toasty. Transfer immediately to a bowl or another pan, but if you leave them on a hot pan to cool they can still burn.
To pan-toast, place your nuts in an even layer in a nonstick skillet over medium high heat, and swirl constantly, giving a toss or two if you are able, until the nuts have deepened in color and smell toasty, usually about 3-5 minutes. Transfer to a bowl or a sheet pan to cool before using.