Removing Skins

Appears in
On Food and Cooking

By Harold McGee

Published 2004

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Many preparations call for nut skins to be removed so that they don’t discolor the dish or add unwanted astringency. Thin skins—those on peanuts and hazelnuts, for example—can often be made brittle enough to rub off by a brief toasting in the oven. The thicker skins of almonds are toughened and loosened by a minute or two in boiling water. Others can often be removed by immersing the nuts in hot water made alkaline with baking soda (3 Tb soda per quart/45 gm per liter), rubbing the softened skins off (alkalinity helps dissolve pectin and hemicellulose cement in the cell walls), then reimmersing the nuts in a dilute acid solution to neutralize the slight amount of absorbed alkaline liquid. The color and astringency of hard-to-remove walnut skins can be lightened significantly by a brief boiling in acidified water, which leaches out tannins and bleaches the color of those that remain. Tough chestnut skins are softened by roasting or boiling in the shell, or by a brief period in the microwave oven. They’re also simply peeled off like the skin of an apple.