Macadamia's value is proved in sauces, salads and sweets A NUTTY TREASURE FOR COOKS

April 03, 1994|By Faye Levy | Faye Levy,Los Angeles Times Syndicate

Regarded as the world's finest nut, the macadamia nut is a treasure for the cook. Because they are the richest of nuts and the most subtle in flavor, these creamy-beige nuts make superb sauces for serving with delicate seafood and light meats. Buttery, crisp and slightly sweet, they add an elegant touch to salads and are wonderful with rice and other grains.

There is no end to their uses in desserts. They can be combined with caramel to make praline and can be mixed into cakes, cookies and mousses. Macadamia nuts are perfect in recipes that call for other delicate nuts, especially almonds or hazelnuts, and are even easier to use because macadamias do not have a skin to remove.

With all these advantages, it may be surprising that macadamia nuts are not part of any culinary tradition. The reason is simple -- they are relative newcomers in the kitchen. They were discovered in the middle of the 19th century in their native Australia by a scientist, John Macadam, and were named for him. It was only about 70 years later that they were grown commercially in Hawaii, which now produces most of the world's macadamia nuts.

For a while, macadamia nuts were mainly known to vacationers in Hawaii. Today, more and more supermarkets, specialty markets and health-food stores are carrying them. They can be purchased raw, dry-roasted and oil-roasted.

(The raw nuts are unsalted, while the roasted nuts can be salted or unsalted.)

In the last few years, such a profusion of macadamia-nut products has appeared that people are talking of "macadamia mania."

There now are chocolate-coated macadamias, which are lovely for garnishing desserts; macadamia-nut butters, both plain and with various flavors; macadamia-nut brittle; tropical fruit jams with macadamia nuts; and even macadamia-nut liqueur, a delightful complement to macadamia-nut desserts.

For the following recipes, raw or roasted macadamia nuts can be used. Dry-roasted nuts, when available, are slightly preferable to those that are oil-roasted, but for most purposes they are interchangeable. If only salted macadamia nuts are at hand, they can easily and efficiently be desalted (see sidebar) for use in desserts.

Sole with macadamia nut sauce

Makes 4 servings

SAUCE:

2 tablespoons chopped shallot

1 tablespoon butter

3 tablespoons dry white wine

3/4 cup whipping cream

salt

1/2 cup (about 2 1/4 ounces) lightly salted macadamia nuts

1/2 teaspoon fresh lemon juice

pepper

FISH:

1 1/2 pounds sole fillets

1/4 cup dry white wine

2 tablespoons water

salt, pepper

4 teaspoons minced fresh parsley

1/4 cup (about 1 ounce) lightly salted macadamia nuts, coarsely chopped

To prepare sauce: Place shallot and butter in medium saucepan and saute over low heat, stirring occasionally, until soft. Add wine and simmer over moderate heat until mixture is reduced to about 3 tablespoons. Stir in cream and -- salt and bring to boil, stirring. Cook over moderate heat, stirring often, until mixture is thick enough to coat spoon, 3 to 4 minutes. Cool to lukewarm.

Grind nuts to smooth paste in food processor. With blades turning, gradually pour in cream mixture and process until smooth. Set aside.

To prepare fish: Run fingers over fillets and carefully pull out any bones with aid of tweezers or sharp paring knife. Fold fillets in half, with whiter side facing out, and arrange in one layer in well-buttered 10-cup gratin dish or other heavy shallow baking dish. Pour wine and water over fish. Sprinkle lightly with salt and pepper. Set piece of buttered parchment paper directly on fish to cover it. Bake at 425 degrees about 10 minutes, or until thin skewer inserted into thickest part of fillets for about 5 seconds feels hot when touched to underside of wrist.

Carefully remove fillets to platter with 2 wide slotted spatulas, reserving cooking liquid. Cover fish with the parchment paper to keep it warm. Gradually whisk 2 tablespoons cooking liquid into reserved sauce. Add lemon juice. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Pat fillets dry and spoon sauce over them. Sprinkle with parsley and chopped macadamia nuts.

*

Ground macadamia nuts form a crunchy crust for these sauteed chicken breasts. The macadamia-nut butter, which adds a festive touch to the chicken, can accompany any broiled or sauteed fish or meat.

Macadamia chicken

Makes 2 servings

MACADAMIA-NUT BUTTER, optional (see note):

1/4 cup (about 1 ounce) lightly salted macadamia nuts

6 tablespoons butter, cut into bits, slightly softened

1 teaspoon fresh lime juice

1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon minced fresh parsley

salt, pepper

CHICKEN:

2 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves (each about 5 ounces), pounded until 1/4 inch thick

salt, pepper

1/3 cup flour

1 large egg, lightly beaten

1 cup (about 4 1/2 ounces) raw or dry-roasted macadamia nuts, ground fine in food processor

1/4 cup oil

2 tablespoons butter

lime slices for garnish, optional

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