The English walnut is the darling of the holiday nutcracker set, with a tawny shell and sweet nut meat that all but tumbles from its papery nook. But this is not that walnut. This is the tough-as-nails, armor-clad Juglans nigra, better known as the black walnut. What meat can be saved from its shell comes out in bits; the rest is pressed into an earthy, bitter oil.
What is it?
Black walnuts have a dark, striated shell that's tough enough to give even a determined squirrel fits. Once cracked open, black walnuts fight on; getting intact nut meat out is practically impossible. Fortunately for black walnut oil production, that's not necessary. The hulled nuts are fed into an expeller press - a large, hydraulic, screw-like device - where the oil is squeezed out under tremendous pressure.
There are online recipes for making black walnut oil; many suggest toasting black walnut pieces in a skillet and using them to infuse canola oil. Resist the temptation to try this. If you're a fan of the uniquely bitter flavor of the black walnut, you'll want the real thing.
How do I use it?
If you've ever cooked with regular walnut oil - say, to stir-fry green beans - you know that it adds a slightly earthy flavor. Black walnut oil deepens that flavor, with a profile that could be described as smoky to bitter. In combination with the right ingredients, though - like adding bitters to a cocktail - black walnut oil helps accentuate other flavors. It can be brushed on full-flavored fish, such as salmon; incorporated into vinaigrettes as a dressing or marinade; or added to baked goods for extra richness.
If you're feeling daring this holiday season, put down the nutcracker, step to the dark side and pick up a bottle of black walnut oil. Then, try out these recipes!
Asparagus with Black Walnut Oil "Hollandaise"
By Chris Williams, Franco
Serves | 8 |
- 1 Tbsp shallots, minced
- 1/3 cup water
- 2 Tbsp white wine vinegar
- salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 4 egg yolks
- 1½ sticks butter, melted
- ¼ cup black walnut oil
- 2 lbs asparagus, blanched
| Preparation | In a small saucepan, bring shallots, water, white wine vinegar and 1 pinch black pepper to a boil. Simmer until reduced to about 2 Tbsp. Strain into a wide bowl and cool slightly. Add egg yolks and whisk to combine. Over a bain marie (double boiler), whisk yolk mixture until thick and smooth. Slowly stream melted butter down the side of the bowl, whisking vigorously to incorporate. After butter is fully incorporated, slowly stream in the black walnut oil and season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve with the asparagus cold, grilled or warm.
Black Walnut Ice Cream
By Chris Williams, Franco
Serves | 4 to 6 |
- 2 cups heavy cream
- ½ cup walnuts, chopped and toasted
- 1 pinch salt
- ½ Tbsp vanilla extract
- 5 egg yolks
- ¾ cup honey
- 1/3 cup black walnut oil
| Preparation | In a pot, scald the cream and add the walnuts and salt. Gently simmer for 5 minutes. Remove from heat, add vanilla extract and let steep for 10 minutes. In a large bowl, whisk the egg yolks and honey until mixture is thick and forms ribbons. Slowly add the cream mixture to the egg mixture, whisking constantly. Chill to 32ºF. Add walnut oil to the chilled cream right before placing in an ice cream machine. Process according to manufacturer's directions.
Stop by Straub's to pick up more delicious recipes featuring black walnut oil. Visit straubs.com for information on their four locations.