New Mexico is nuts for pistachios. McGinn’s Pistachio Tree Ranch, Tularosa Pistachio Groves and Eagle Ranch Pistachio Groves in Southern New Mexico produce most of the state’s crop. Their nuts are readily available at most local grocers—plain, roasted with chile, or shelled. The flavorful roasted nutmeats are worth the time it takes to shell them yourself, and they make an elegant filling for baklava.
But little did I know that New Mexico is one of the country’s biggest producers of pecans. On a visit to a Hatch chile farm back in the ’80s, I noticed that pecan trees lined the back roads for miles. According to the New Mexico Pecan Growers (nmpecangrowers.us), we have more buyers and shellers than any other state in the union.
I first encountered homegrown pecans in the South—Florida and Georgia—where they also grow in abundance. Folks there have numerous contraptions to crack them open, most of which apply sudden force to the nut, end to end. If you get it just right, the nutmeat comes loose whole. If not, you have a handful of shattered bits.
The price of pecans has skyrocketed lately due to huge demand from emerging markets such as China, where these sweet, buttery snacks have found avid new fans. I don’t blame them. Pecans are my favorite nut, and pecan pie is an amazing dessert. I make spicy sugared nuts at the holidays in volumes—six to eight pounds at a time—to share with friends during the holidays. Here’s my recipe. It’s very easy, and (if you don’t eat them all first) the leftover pieces are great on salads.
1) Preheat oven to 325º. Line 2 baking sheets with Silpat or parchment.2) Whisk sugar, salt and spices until evenly distributed.3) In a separate stainless steel bowl, whisk egg whites and water until frothy, but not to peaks. Add pecans to egg whites and toss to coat the nuts. 4) Drain egg mixture from nuts. In small batches, toss them in the spice mixture until coated, but not clumpy.5) Spread the nuts evenly on the baking sheets and bake on the oven’s middle rack for 40 to 50 minutes. Watch carefully to prevent burning, turning pans halfway through for even browning.6) Remove and let cool. Store nuts in an airtight container.