Saturday, June 15, 2013

New Tricks

Occasionally I discover that some kitchen technique I've avoided obsessively for years turns out to be ridiculously easy.  Typically I'm retroactively ashamed of myself for not trying it sooner.

Case in point?  (So help me if I sense any sniggering in the back seat I will stop this post and come back there...) Blanching almonds.

Yeah, you read that right.  I would read through a recipe and if it called for blanched almonds?  Buh-bye!  This despite the fact that for years my local chain grocer offered up flats of blanched, slivered almonds, 12 ounces per, that I very happily brought home, toasted up and then sprinkled liberally into salads.

The produce section also offered up whole raw almonds, skin on, that I gleefully shunned.  Why wouldn't I?  They were priced identically ounce for ounce only one format had done all the work for me, except for the toasting.  I'm no chump, why do work I didn't have to?

Over the years the idea that I didn't have to blanch my own almonds developed into the idea that it might be hard to do.  That I didn't have to morphed from "I shouldn't have to" all the way over to "I can't".

Inexplicably, my store began only to offer whole raw skin-on flats of almonds.  What!!??  After furtively picking up a half dozen flats to assure the blanched ones weren't just hiding underneath, I reassembled into a false facade of calm and cas-u-ally rolled back over to the baking goods aisle. Steeling myself, I sussed out the teeny-tiny bags of slivered and sliced blanched almonds.  Whoa, pricey plus!  I love me some toasted almonds all right, but I don't love 'em that much.

The price differential between "all the work done for me" microbags and the "can I do this myself style" of whole almonds hit me right where it hurt, somewhere around the intersection of "Lazy" and "Cheap".

Something, and by that I mean something that was not my affinity for toasted slivered almonds, had to give.

Reluctantly, I trundled back over the to produce section and tossed a flat of the raw skin-on almonds into my cart.  Once home I ran a quick online search for blanching almonds and discovered two techniques predominate the blanching-your-own field.

One route involves a pot of hot boiling water and the other utilizes a soak in water previously brought to a boil in the microwave.  I decided to try both, beginning with the more prevalently cited hot water on the stove technique.

It was fast, easy, and worked laughably well.  After a minute or so on the boil almonds are plunged into cold water to render them handleable temperature wise, past which the almond skins could not slip off any more easily.  Popping the nuts away from the skin was pretty close to fun.


The microwaved boiling water soak did not work nearly as well, even when I threw caution to the winds and let the almonds soak past the warned against endpoint of 60 seconds (almonds can get soggy - not much a worry for me since I'm toasting them in the oven after skinning).

So.  Pot of boiling water technique is the clear winner.  After making a batch I put the almond skins out on the ground underneath a bird feeder in the back where the squirrels and doves snarfed them up almost before I got back into the house.  I let the boiling water cool completely and used it to water container plants.

Can you imagine how smug this made me feel?  Don't even try.  Just as smug as you can possibly imagine, plus some.  Then add some more.  I nearly strained my smug bones I was so pleased with myself.

Here's a recap of the process, extracted from multiple versions easily found online:

The Blanching of the Almonds

1) Bring a medium large pot of water to a rolling boil.

2) Place raw almonds into vigorously boiling water.  (I used 1 1/2 cups of raw almonds per batch -more than that took the water temp down too far).

3) Allow the almonds to boil for one minute (I often let them go over a few seconds but I'm oven toasting them immediately afterwards.  The admonishment not to let them boil over 60 seconds to avoid softening was widespread.  Be ye so warned.)

4) Fish almonds out of the boiling water with a small sieve and place them in an ice water bath.  Let stand in water until cool then remove to drain further in colander.  If making multiple batches place next 1 1/2 cup batch into boiling water to process while the first cools.  Rinse, (don't lather!) repeat.

5) (Now comes the fun part.)  Use your fingers to squeeze the cooled almonds to loosen the nut meat from the skin.  Take care with this - if you squeeze too hard you'll be launching almond projectile missiles into the great wide beyond.

At this point you most certainly would NOT want to get into an almond fight with anybody (unless your floors are a lot cleaner than mine which might be a given, but still).  They FLY, guys.  (Then they skitter and they sliiiide).

Perhaps you'll want to fiddle around with squeezing them from one hand into the other until you develop your own technique that combines top speed with corral-ability.   Time trials might become necessary.  Or races.  Or not.  Do stay focused.  They'll all get skinned, right?  That is why we're doing this.  To skin the danged almonds.

After removing the skins spread the almonds out in a single layer to dry completely.  Ta-daaa!  Now the almonds are blanched and ready to use in any recipe.
Not toasted - Toasted
I toast my blanched almonds in a preheated 350 degree oven for around 15 minutes (shaking the pan vigorously after the first ten minutes).

Now maybe I'm the last grown-up around the interweb to figure out that blanching almonds is quick  and easy-peasy.  Just in case I'm not the very last, just in case you or your cousin, say, ever avoided a recipe that called for blanched almonds because you, I mean your cousin, couldn't find them at the store or couldn't find them reasonably priced?  Avoid no longer, friends and cousins.  The (blanched) almond coast is clear.



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