My first job after college was in an airport wine bar, where I learned many valuable lessons about life and air travel (for example, the most belligerent people are the ones who mix anti-anxiety medicine with alcohol for the first time). It was where I saw firsthand that hospitality corporations will not necessarily care when you tell them your manager is stealing tips and is always drunk on the job. But the most lasting and universal piece of wisdom I can share is that you should never, ever eat food prepared in an airport.
I guess I can only speak for how it was a decade ago, but food, like everything else in an airport, has to pass through security, and after security it just sits in a hall until someone comes to retrieve it, which is not always right away. It was common to see all the other places' food still waiting to be picked up – stuff like sushi and wraps – just sitting there for hours.
The kitchen space was a dark, cramped horror show, totally unequipped for the regular rushes we had on weekends and holidays. But somehow stuff came out of it. I mostly worked on the floor, but there was the occasional kitchen shift, during which I did prep work and operated the two industrial microwaves that did all of the cooking.
Having attended pastry school and worked at a two-star Michelin restaurant in France, I was not familiar with the microwave arts on a professional level. While it mostly served to reheat already prepared food, there was one item that was actually cooked on-premise in the microwave: the glazed almonds.
Maybe it’s because they were the only genuinely fresh item on the menu, but the almonds coated with brown sugar and rosemary were the only good thing at this airport establishment. (Do not get me started on the wine.) Especially when a fresh batch had just cooled down and was still snappy and glossy. Although I have blacked out every other experience I had in that kitchen, I can acknowledge that this is one of the most impressive things to ever come out of a microwave.
Since I just told you to never eat food from an airport, you should make these glazed nuts in your microwave at home, or in the office if you go to one of those. You can use any type of whole, unroasted nut, but don’t mix different types in a single batch or else they might not cook evenly.
All you have to do is microwave everything for a few minutes until it boils, and then in 1-minute intervals, stirring in between, as the sugar melts into caramel and the nuts are roasted through. Though this technique is really easy, it does rely on using your senses to identify when the nuts are roasted and the glaze is adequately snappy. As with all things caramel, this is an active project. Once you start heating that sugar you are committed to the end. If these harden in place, they’re gonna stay there, so don’t get caught up on TikTok.
Glazed Microwave Nuts:
- 3/4 cup light brown sugar
- 1.5 tsp kosher salt
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- ½ cup water
- 1 tbsp minced fresh rosemary
- 2 cups raw almonds
Combine brown sugar, salt, oil, water and rosemary in a microwave-safe glass bowl or dish. Add almonds and stir to coat.
Microwave for 5 minutes and stir using a metal or silicone utensil. Continue to microwave the almonds in three-minute bursts, stirring in between, until most of the water has cooked off and the caramel starts to get thick. Then microwave the almonds for a minute, then stir, until the almonds smell roasted and the caramel produces brittle, crunchy strings when you pull the spoon out. This can take up to 10 minutes.
When the almonds are done, pour them on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper and spread them out as much as possible using a lightly greased metal utensil. If they cool in a pile, they will turn out like brittle rather than glazed nuts.
Once cooled, break up the mass into individual nuts and enjoy. Soak the cooking vessel in boiling water for easy cleanup.