One Ingredient, Two Ways: Brazil Nuts

By Marcus Samuelsson |

You know that large nut they put in trail mixes that takes up a lot of space, but that you’re never particularly excited to see when you open the bag? Reader, meet brazil nut.

Brazil nut, meet reader (and eater). Now that you two have been properly acquainted, I think the Brazil Nut deserves a little more love in this nut-eat-nut world, and I’m devoting this week’s column to proving why.

Brazil nuts, which are technically seeds of a brazil nut tree, hail originally from…drumroll, please…South America. The trees typically grow in the Amazon, where they can reach heights of up to 150 feet tall, and can live for 500 years. Since the mammoth trees are hard to tame for commerical production, most brazil nuts are harvested the old-fashioned way: gathered from the wild. (See? Hard to get and exotic-are you intrigued yet?)

I took a liking to the underdog nut early on because of its buttery flavor. Turns out that’s not just my imagination; brazil nuts have the prestigious distinction of being the nut with the highest saturated fat content. Th richness of brazil nut oil makes it an ideal standin for coconut oil or macadamia nut oil in recipes, and is also used as a lubricant for clocks, and in cosmetics. On the flipside, it also has the more unfortunate distinction of containing a very small amount of radium, which, while minimal, is still of a level about 1,000 times higher than most foods.

But no matter. If anything, I think it gives it a little extra something.


Given how buttery brazil nuts are, my first thought at a successful pairing was brazil nut toffee. I had also been eager to try making my own toffee for a while-how hard could it be? Candy thermometer? Fun, new toy! Many minutes of constant whisking? Great arm exercise! So what if my candy thermometer is too tall for this pot and I have to whisk a scalding liquid with one hand while holding the thermometer in place with the other hand? I won’t sugar-coat it: making toffee is not easy. But once you’re done making the ridiculously-addictive toffee? You feel pretty good about yourself. For the chocolate coating, I splurged on Guittard chocolate chips (I always think good-quality chocolate is worth it in baking), and mixed milk chocolate and semi-sweet to keep the end product from being too cloying. The Brazil Nuts add so much to this recipe with their smooth flavor-and this toffee will instantly have your friends saying, “Brazil Nuts, who knew?”

Makes 1 1/2 baking trays
Adapted heavily from Smitten Kitchen

Tools: Candy thermometer Note: Make sure to buy a candy thermometer that is the right height to clip onto the side of your pot. Trust me (see above).

Because making toffee all seems to happen very quickly, it’s best to have all your mise en place ready to go beforehand.


As any regular visitor of an Americanized Chinese restaurant knows, any beef-nut stir fry combo is a sure thing. But, being the undernut that it is, I had never seen or tried stir fry with brazil nuts. I was also anxious to try out my parents’ old wok that they had given me. You don’t need a wok for this recipe, but it’s definitely a lot of fun to use if you have one handy. The brazil nuts’ flavor intensified with a little char on them-and while beef stir-fry is not the most innovative fare, adding brazil nuts makes it just that much more different to feel like something new.

Prep Details

Servings: Makes 2 servings


For the Toffee:

1 cup unsalted butter

1/2 cup light brown sugar

1/2 cup white sugar

1/2 tsp salt

1/2 tsp vanilla

3/4 cup roughly chopped Brazil nuts

2/3 cups milk chocolate chips

2/3 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips

To Make Stir-Fry

1/2 lb Sirloin Stir-fry, they sell this "stir-fry" cut at many supermarkets

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 cup Soy sauce

3 tbsp Hoisin sauce

1 cup chopped bok choy

1 cup chopped snow peas

3 tbsp Canola oil

2/3 cup chopped brazil nuts


 Photos: Suzanne Lehrer

Photos: Suzanne Lehrer


To Make Toffee:

1. Line 2 baking sheets (with edges) with parchment paper, and set out chocolate chips and chopped nuts. In a saucepan over medium heat, melt together the butter, sugars, and HALF of the salt. Leave the rest of the salt aside. Stir occasionally, and watch the thermometer closely. The main goal is that as the mixture gets hotter, you keep whisking more and more to keep the butter and sugar from separating too much.

2. When the temperature hits 250°, begin to stir constantly-although, be forewarned that the butter may splatter up and it is scalding hot so try not to stand too close to the stove. Continue to stir together butter and sugar until the temperature reaches almost 300°, at which point stir in the nuts. When the temperature is finally 300°, or "hard crack" on the candy thermometer, pour the mixture out onto the two baking sheets. If there is still some butter separated out from the mixture, first drain excess liquid into the sink; you do not want to put any of the butter liquid onto the baking sheets.

3. Spread the toffee out evenly on the sheets so that it's about 1/4 in. thick. After 1 minute, pour chocolate chips on top, and wait about another minute for them to start to melt, at which point spread the chocolate out over sheet of toffee. Sprinkle the remaining salt over the top, and put baking sheets in the freezer for an hour to cool. Store in the fridge or in an air-tight container. And don't spill your last few pieces you've been saving onto the floor like I did.

To Make Beef Stir-Fry:

1. Marinate beef in soy sauce overnight, or throughout the day. Put wok or pan on medium heat and coat the bottom with oil. Toast the brazil nuts until brown, about 30-45 seconds, then remove from pan and set aside.

2. Add more oil, and saute garlic, about 45 seconds (if you have a wok, everything heats up much faster). Add in beef, and cook for about 1-2 minutes before adding in vegetables as well. Add in a few more splashes of soy sauce, and the hoisin sauce, and cook until beef and vegetables are cooked through, about 5 minutes total.

3. Turn off heat and add in brazil nuts throughout. Serve with a lime wedge.