In my mind, using toasted nuts instead of raw nuts is almost always preferable. Every now and then I like the flavor of raw almonds. But that’s pretty much it. Raw food enthusiasts would clearly disagree with me. But if you happen to cook with heat, see what you think the next time you garnish a salad with nuts. Compare the difference between toasted and untoasted nuts. Hands down, the toasted nuts are crispier in texture, deeper in color and flavor, and just plain nuttier.
Here is a simple guideline for getting beautifully toasted nuts.
Uniform in size and type. If you are toasting whole nuts, they’re already pretty much the same size. But to ensure that chopped nuts are a fairly uniform size, don’t use a food processor. Instead, chop them with a knife on a cutting board. You don’t need to drive yourself crazy trying to get them all exactly the same. Just make sure you aren’t left with any glaringly large chunks. And leave the tiny crumb-sized pieces behind. They’d just burn when you toast them anyway.
Also, make sure you toast one type of nuts at a time. Different nuts toast at different rates.
Even heat. You can use an toaster oven, oven (good for larger batches of nuts), or a small pan on the stove. In any case, you want to make sure the heat is distributed evenly for even browning.
Oven-toasting. The lower the temperature (like around 300°-325°F in the oven), the more even and delicate the toasting. You can use a higher heat and the nuts will toast faster (in 3-5 minutes), but you’ll need to shake the pan a few times to prevent scorching and keep a very close eye. Note: If you are toasting finely chopped nuts or sliced almonds, though, stick with a lower heat.
If you have a convection mode, it will help distribute the heat evenly. Even with convection heat, you will likely need to give the pan an occasional shake.
Toaster oven-toasting. I get perfectly fine results toasting nuts in the toaster oven. It takes a little experimentation and an understanding of your toaster’s idiosyncratic tendencies, but a light-medium toast setting has worked well for me. You may need to rotate the pan halfway through so that none of the nuts spend too much time in any of the oven’s hot spots.
Pan-toasting. You can toast nuts in a preheated dry pan over medium to medium-high heat. Again, keep the nuts in motion to avoid scorching them. Nuts have delicate oils that should be preserved by not letting them get close to a smoking point. Toasting nuts in a small pan, like one you’d use for frying an egg or two, also gives you a great opportunity to practice your flipping technique. First, tip the pan so that the nuts slip toward the edge of the pan, away from you. Then give the pan a swift, small jerk up and back towards you. With frequent flipping, you’ll ensure that all the surfaces of the nuts get a turn connecting with the heat of the pan.
Close Monitoring. Nuts can go from perfectly toasted to burnt in no time, so keep a vigilant eye on them. You know they are done when they take on a caramel-y color and smell fragrant and toasty.
Save the best for last. To keep nuts toasty and crunchy, add them to your salad, grain dish, or stir-fry just before serving. If the sit for any length of time in moisture, they’ll start to get soft. You can toast nuts in advance and store them in your fridge for up to a couple of days.