Although nothing can substitute for a well-crafted cocktail, I have an abiding affection for good bar food. I have been known to drag friends to Mark’s Bar at Hix (where the drinks are undeniably excellent) simply because I craved the salty-fatty-crispy-hot pork crackling with Bramley apple sauce that you can get for a mere £3.95, which perfectly complements the sharp gin drinks I gravitate towards. (The freebie marmite sticks are another story – I still loathe marmite, after over three years in England.) Lately, when I host cocktail parties, I like to make my own bar snacks. Sure, it’s perfectly fine to dump a bag of potato chips (sorry, Brits – crisps) in a bowl, particularly if you’re hosting a large group, but if you have the time, it is so much more fun (and impressive!) to offer BESPOKE SNACKS tailored specifically to the drinks on offer. At a recent dinner party at which I served mostly Mexican dishes, I started the evening with margaritas, home-made Mexican pickles, and these spiced cocktail nuts.
This is the first time I’ve made roasted seasoned nuts this way, and I’m sold. They taste like they’ve got loads of added fat and unhealthy additives, but in fact the spice blend sticks to the nuts courtesy of frothy egg whites, and the sense of extra unctuousness is just a function of the nuts themselves, which release oils as they roast. This spice blend is spicy, sweet, and a bit smoky, with a hint of tang. You can make any blend you like, however. For example, a favorite dry barbecue rub would be delicious. Or, if you don’t fancy spicy nuts, omit or reduce the cayenne pepper.
Once roasted, the coating on the nuts becomes completely crunchy. Served warm alongside cocktails, they’re a sure crowd-pleaser. Once they have cooled completely, you can probably even store them in kilner jars. In my slightly damp flat, after a few hours, the crunchy coating started to become a bit soft and sticky, so my advice is to make only as much as you want to serve.
300 grams (about three cups, or about 2/3 pound) raw unsalted nuts. (I used cashews, but feel free to use any nuts you fancy, or mixed nuts)
1 large egg white
65 grams (1/3 cup) packed light brown sugar
1 tablespoon white sugar
1 tablespoon salt
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
1 and ½ teaspoons cayenne pepper
Preheat your oven to 150 degrees Celsius (300 degrees Fahrenheit).
Line a large baking sheet with silpat. (You can also use an unlined baking sheet; you’ll just have to do a little more scrubbing afterwards — boiling water does the trick.)
In a small bowl, combine the dry spices. In a large bowl, beat the egg white with a whisk or electric beater until completely opaque and foamy. Add the spices and blend thoroughly.
Dump the nuts into the bowl and toss until they are coated. Spread the coated nuts in a single layer on the prepared baking sheet, and roast. After 15 minutes, pry any nuts that may be sticking to the sheet with a spatula and toss them, keeping them in a single layer. Reduce oven heat to 120 degrees Celsius (250 degrees Fahrenheit), and continue to roast until the nuts are golden, approximately 10-15 minutes more.
Remove from oven and again use a spatula to scrape the nuts off the baking sheet, breaking apart any nuts that may have stuck together. They will quickly become hard and crispy as they cool. Serve immediately with any tequila, whiskey, or rum-based cocktails, or with beer.
Makes enough cocktail nuts for 8-12 greedy drinkers.