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December 31, 2004

'It's the best almond in the world'

Marfrig

So said Andy Nusser, executive chef and partner with Mario Batali in Casa Mono, a Spanish restaurant in New York, of the Marcona almond.

Elaine Louie wrote a paean to this heart-shaped Spanish nut for Wednesday's New York Times Dining Out section.

Maricel Presilla, a chef at Zafra and Cucharamama, Latin American restaurants in Hoboken, New Jersey, said it was the best almond in Spain, if not the world.

"It has a beautiful clean flavor," she said, "the epitome of a milky nutty flavor."

Liz Thorpe, the wholesale manager for Murray's Cheese in Greenwich Village, called the almonds luscious.

Wrote Louie, "The almond is available in two versions, one fried in olive oil, lightly salted, and packed in sunflower oil, and one that is raw. The fried variety is more popular and startlingly addictive."

Her article stated they're available at Fairway, Garden of Eden, Dean & DeLuca, Murray's, and Whole Foods.

That's nice.

But what if, like most of the world, you don't live near one of these stores?

That's why you have me.

$12.95 for 12 oz. here.

Here's the story.

    Chefs Crumble Before a Spanish Nut

    In a relatively short time the heart-shaped Marcona almond, a Spanish almond with a sweet flesh and a gentle crunch, has become the nut of choice in New York restaurants.

    "It's the best almond in the world," said Andy Nusser, the executive chef and a partner with Mario Batali in Casa Mono, the Spanish restaurant near Gramercy Park, and its adjacent wine bar, Bar Jamón.

    Maricel Presilla, a historian and the chef and an owner of Zafra and Cucharamama, Latin American restaurants in Hoboken, N.J., said that it was the best almond in Spain, if not the world.

    "It has a beautiful clean flavor," she said, "the epitome of a milky nutty flavor."

    Liz Thorpe, the wholesale manager for Murray's Cheese in Greenwich Village, called these almonds luscious.

    "They're juicy," Ms. Thorpe said, "and they're softer than the California almonds."

    The Romans cultivated the almond in Spain around 2,000 years ago, Ms. Presilla said, and although there are many types of almonds grown in Spain, the Marcona is widely considered to be the best.

    The Spanish chop almonds and add them to sauces, and grind them with water to make almond milk, but their most important use for Spaniards "is for the turron and all kinds of nougats," Ms. Presilla said.

    They also fry them in olive oil, salt them and eat them with manchego cheese.

    Marcona almonds gained notice after Spain's cuisine became popular in the late '90's.

    In 2000 Michele Buster of Forever Cheese in Long Island City, Queens, arranged a food tour of Spain for food professionals including Mr. Nusser, who had lived there as a child and again as a teenager.

    They nibbled almonds, discovered pimentón, the Spanish paprika, and ate manchego cheese.

    By 2001 the Marcona almond had shown up not just on menus but at stores like Fairway, Garden of Eden, Dean & DeLuca, Murray's and Whole Foods.

    "We sell them primarily as a cheese accompaniment," said Francesca de Bardin, an owner of Francvin Epicurean Foods, an importer in Manhattan.

    Ms. Buster, who sells the almonds in 11-pound tubs, distributes 11,000 pounds nearly every month, up from 55 pounds the first month in 2001.

    Ms. de Bardin estimates she shipped 5,000 pounds of Marcona almond across the United States this year, up from 2,500 pounds in 2001.

    The almond is available in two versions, one fried in olive oil, lightly salted, and packed in sunflower oil, and one that is raw.

    The fried variety is more popular and startlingly addictive.

    But chefs like Ms. Presilla buy the raw nuts for baking.

    In the past three years chefs at Picholine, Casa Mono and Town have been using the Marcona as a crunchy embellishment in dishes that are savory and sweet.

    Craig Hopson, chef de cuisine at Picholine, serves seared foie gras on a bed of pear coulis topped by a paper-thin circle of a Marcona almond tuile.

    The contrast of textures and flavors is heightened: the crisp flaky tuile, the unctuous foie gras and the sweet-tart fruit.

    His pastry chef, Daniel Rundell, makes a crunchy Marcona almond nougat, and serves it, shaped like a circle, under a scoop of caramel ice cream.

    At Picholine the chefs use the Marcona almond just as they would an ordinary almond, Mr. Hopson said.

    Casa Mono's house salad is a tumble of frisée sprinkled with ground Marcona almonds colored bright orange from being roasted with pimentón.

    A sweet-sour dressing of sherry vinegar, olive oil and quince paste melted with orange juice glosses the greens, while slices of manchego cheese perch against the frisée and add buttery toothsomeness.

    Mr. Nusser also has his version of an ice cream sundae.

    He sprinkles ground spiced Marcona almonds and slivered candied pumpkin on a scoop of ice cream and drizzles it with Spanish sherry.

    At Town, Geoffrey Zakarian, the owner and chef, and his executive chef, John Johnson, offer braised leeks topped by toasted Marcona almonds.

    The flavors of the leeks and almonds are subtle, but the contrast in textures is bold.

    The chefs also dust grilled quail with ground roasted Marcona almonds to give a hint of crunch.

December 31, 2004 at 03:31 PM | Permalink


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Comments

It's true! I've just discovered these, quite by accident, and when I googled to find out where they've been all my life, guess what I saw, and right here, where I hang out all the time and didn't even know!
Beautiful, clean...yes,
Milky, nutty...yes, yes,
Luscious...yes yes yes.
I don't cook with them or do anything fancy (I don't know how, anyway) -- I just eat them up.
YUM YUM YUM

Posted by: Flautist | Nov 12, 2008 11:11:58 PM

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