Fire-Dried Walnuts or Pecans


Preparation info

  • Difficulty


  • Yields about 2 cups nuts, enough to serve


    as a light munch preceding or during a meal.

Appears in

It was my literary friend and mentor, James Lo, who first delighted me with these walnuts, and I have been delighting people with them—and their pecan cousins—ever since. These nuts have a beguiling texture and an irresistible gloss of caramelized salt and sugar that make them almost universal favorites.

  • These are not the heavily candied walnuts one finds in Hunanese restaurants. Rather, they are refined, elegant sweetmeats, just perfect for greeting guests. You may soak and dry the nuts days in advance, but to serve them warm and freshly caramelized is the ultimate seduction.


  • ½ pound (2 cups) plump and perfect walnut or pecan halves
  • 2 teaspoons fresh corn or peanut oil
  • ½ teaspoon coarse kosher salt
  • 2 tablespoons sugar


Soaking and drying the nuts

Put the nuts in a heatproof bowl. Cover with boiling water, then soak for 30 minutes. Drain, pat dry, then spread evenly on a large jelly-roll pan or baking pan lined with a triple thickness of paper towels. If you are doing a double or triple recipe, arrange the nuts on two pans.

Dry 30 minutes in the middle section of a preheated 300° oven. Turn the tray, reduce the heat to 250°, then check at 10-minute intervals and remove the nuts from the oven when they are almost entirely dry, with just a kernel of moistness at the core. Test nuts from several spots on the tray to be sure. If you are not proceeding immediately to caramelize them, put the nuts in a shallow bowl to cool, stirring occasionally. Once cool, the nuts may be bagged airtight and kept for 2 days before continuing.

Caramelizing the nuts

Heat a wok or heavy skillet over moderate heat until hot. Add the oil, swirl to coat, then add the nuts. Stir gently with a wooden spoon or wooden spatula until they are evenly glossed with oil and feel warm to the touch. Lower the heat immediately if the nuts begin to scorch.

Sprinkle the salt over the nuts, stir gently to mix, then slowly sprinkle in the sugar, a tablespoon at a time, until you have a sweetness to suit you. The taste should be lively and sweet, with a hint of salt. Stir constantly while adding the sugar, and break off any caramelized bits that cling to the spoon, stirring them back into the nuts when you are done. The whole process will take about 3–4 minutes, and the salt and sugar will melt and adhere to the nuts.

Serve the nuts hot or cool, either as an hors d’oeuvre or as a pleasantly sweet diversion during a meal, piled in a bowl with the prettiest pieces on top.

Cooled nuts may be bottled airtight and stored in a cool place for up to 2 weeks.