Four years ago, when I was home for a couple days between book tour stops and I had about 3 gazillion errands to run but I was also hungry (because proper meals are the first thing to go when I’m busy) and really craving a great salad (because vegetables are the first thing to get stiffed when you travel a lot) and I didn’t want to eat it out of a takeout container or on my lap or in a hurry, I wanted to sit down and eat it off a plate like a civilized person with water in a glass, not a plastic bottle, and the want for this was overwhelming and I looked up and I was right in front of the Union Square Cafe and thought, “Why not?”
Do you ever go out to eat alone? I really don’t. When I had the freedom to do this more often, I always felt awkward and fidgety and now that I’m old enough to not care, we only occasionally have the luxury of going out without two small people and snack cups of Cheerios, and certainly not alone, you know, sitting at a bar, reading a book like one of those grownups you always thought you’d be? But this time I did. The salad was perfect. The bread was warm. The bartender talked me into (I’m sure I was terribly hard to convince) a glass of wine and 35 minutes later I resumed my errands happy and fed and cared for and swore I’d do this more often, although I really don’t.
I’ve been thinking about this because The Union Square Cafe reopens this week and although it’s been twenty-six years since its cookbook came out, the bar nuts recipe inside is as easy to make and addictive as ever. It seems hard to imagine that such simple ingredients — a pat of butter, brown sugar, salt, cayenne and minced rosemary — could transform even the unloved Brazil nut into something you cannot stop snacking on, but that’s really what a timeless recipe does. I hope it becomes your new holiday habit, too.
Union Square Cafe’s Bar Nuts
The original recipe, which can be found verbatim from one end of the internet to the other, calls for 18 ounces or 2 1/4 cups of assorted unsalted nuts, which would be just fine if 2 1/4 cups of nuts didn’t weigh about 11 ounces, no matter what nut you use. This led me to make this twice, first with 2 1/4 cups nuts — it was a tad too salty and spicy, even with halved volume cayenne — and then with 18 ounces (which is more like 3 2/3 cups of nuts), in which the seasoning was more spot-on. No surprise really that restaurants cook using weights, not cups. I then made it a third time, this time with some nuts pretzel nuggets (I used this brand) and it was excellent. Hi, would you like to come over for some spiced nuts? We have buckets!
I make another change from the original, which is I bake the nuts further after tossing them in the spiced butter, which helps it set. You’re supposed to serve them warm (and they rewarm well) but they’re also just as addictive at room temperature.
Finally, but it’s a big finally, the flavor here hinges on both salt and cayenne, which is great because: yum but terrible for recipe writing because 1 teaspoon of salt varies wildly by saltiness depending on type and brand (even among Kosher salts, some weigh more than twice as much as others) and I find that some cayennes are much hotter than others. What should you do? Well, I use Diamond brand kosher salt, the lightest weight of them. For any other brand of kosher salt, you should start with half and use more to taste. For a coarse sea salt, you’re safe using the full teaspoon and possibly even more. For a flaky featherweight Maldon sea salt, you could probably safely use 2 teaspoons, as Nigella does. If your cayenne packs a lot of heat, as mine does, I found that half (1/4 teaspoon level) gave the nuts a nice kicky but not overpowering heat. If you carry hot sauce in your purse, you should use the whole amount.
I know that a lot of people think that they don’t like rosemary but I am willing to wager a bet that at least 2/3 of rosemary-averse people will still like it here. Everyone does, really.
- 18 ounces (3 2/3 cups) assorted unsalted nuts or 2 1/3 cups mixed nuts and 1 1/3 cups pretzel nuggets
- 1 tablespoon butter, melted
- 2 tablespoons fresh rosemary, coarsely chopped
- 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon cayenne (see note up top)
- 2 teaspoons dark brown sugar
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt (see note up top)