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The Richest Nut of All

September 23, 1993|FAYE LEVY

Regarded as the world's finest nut, the macadamia is a treasure for the cook. Because it is the richest of nuts and the most subtle in flavor, the creamy-beige nut makes superb sauces for delicate seafood and light meats. Buttery, crisp and slightly sweet, the nuts 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 made into cakes, cookies and mousses. Macadamia nuts are perfect in recipes that call for other delicate nuts, especially almonds or hazelnuts, but are even easier to use because no skin needs to be removed.

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 mid-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 known mainly 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; 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." We now have 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.

It should be noted, however, that each ounce of Macadamia nuts contains 20.9 grams of fat and 199 calories. In comparison, an ounce of almonds contains 14.9 grams of fat and 166 calories.

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 for use in desserts.

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SOLE WITH MACADAMIA SAUCE 1 1/2 pounds sole fillets 1/4 cup dry white wine 2 tablespoons water Salt, pepper Sauce 1 tablespoon lemon juice 4 teaspoons minced fresh parsley 1/4 cup lightly salted macadamia nuts, coarsely chopped

Run fingers over fillets and carefully pull out bones with aid of tweezers or sharp paring knife. Fold fillets in half, with whiter side facing out, and arrange in 1 layer in well-buttered 10-cup gratin dish or other heavy shallow baking dish. Pour wine and water over fish. Season lightly to taste with salt and pepper. Set piece of buttered parchment paper directly on fish to cover.

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. Reserve cooking liquid. Cover fish with parchment paper to keep warm. Gradually whisk 2 tablespoons cooking liquid into reserved Sauce. Add lemon juice. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Pat fillets dry with paper towels. Spoon sauce over fillets. Sprinkle with parsley and chopped macadamia nuts. 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 lightly salted macadamia nuts 1/2 teaspoon fresh lemon juice Pepper

Place shallot and butter in medium saucepan and saute over low heat, stirring occasionally, until tender. Add wine and simmer over moderate heat until mixture is reduced to about 3 tablespoons. Stir in cream and dash 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. Add lemon juice. With blades turning, gradually pour in cream mixture and process until smooth. Taste and adjust salt and pepper. Set aside.

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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.

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MACADAMIA 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 raw or dry-roasted macadamia nuts, finely ground 1/4 cup oil 2 tablespoons butter Lime slices, optional Macadamia Nut Butter

Lightly season chicken to taste with salt and pepper on both sides. Dredge pieces in flour, shaking off excess. In bowl dip into egg, then both sides into nuts to coat, pressing lightly so nuts adhere. Handle chicken gently so coating does not come off. Transfer chicken to plate.

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