Pecan Artists

Five top Texas chefs pay tribute to our state tree with a totally nutrageous holiday feast.
Photograph by Tom Schierlitz

We know what you’re thinking. You’ve read the subhead to this story, promising a holiday feast that focuses entirely on pecans, and at this very minute you are saying: Who in his right mind would want to eat a meal with pecans in every single dish? Well, we have a question for your question: Who wouldn’t?

Pecans are fantastic! Not only are they nutritious but, unlike walnuts (troublingly bitter) or cashews (as eccentric as your weird Uncle Louie), they taste marvelous alone and play well with other ingredients. Their texture is not too hard, not too soft, but just right, and their shell is so yielding that a three-year-old could crack it (well, that’s true of modern hybrids; the same cannot be said of the native pecan, which requires a reinforced steel nutcracker or perhaps a ten-ton boulder to smash it). Finally, pecans give back to society by providing a meaningful occupation for squirrels, keeping them from driving yappy little dogs to the brink of insanity.

Therefore, in recognition of the ninetieth anniversary of the pecan’s being declared the state tree of Texas, we called on five top chefs—Nick Badovinus, of Neighborhood Services, in Dallas; Josh Cross, of Oloroso, in San Antonio; Molly McCook, of Ellerbe Fine Foods, in Fort Worth; Larry McGuire, of Perla’s, in Austin; and Randy Rucker, formerly of the Rainbow Lodge, in Houston, and now in the process of starting his own restaurant—to create a festive pecan-centric holiday dinner.

The fab five responded with an outpouring of imagination that starts with a fancy pecan, fig, and goat cheese “log” and finishes with scrumptious ice cream sandwiches made with pecan shortbread cookies and crumbled pralines. By the time you finish salivating over these recipes, far from wondering how anyone could eat so many nutty dishes, you’ll be wishing we had included more.

Fancy Pecan-Fig Goat Cheese “Log”

Larry McGuire, Perla’s Seafood & Oyster Bar, Austin

Toasted Pecans

2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 cups pecan halves
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
2 teaspoons brown sugar, light or dark

Melt butter in a large, heavy-bottomed sauté pan. Add pecans and toast over medium heat until brown and fragrant, 5 to 10 minutes. Add remaining ingredients and toss to coat evenly. Pour pecans onto paper towels to drain and cool.

Arugula and Pecan Pesto

1 cup arugula
1 cup basil
1/2 cup toasted pecans (see preceding recipe)
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1/2 cup olive oil
juice of 1 lemon
kosher salt and black pepper to taste

Place first 4 ingredients in a food processor and process until finely chopped, about 30 seconds. With processor running, add olive oil in a slow stream. Add lemon juice, season with salt and pepper, and run a few more seconds until thoroughly blended.

Fig Jam

1 1/2 cups dried figs, halved
3 tablespoons Madeira or port, plus a bit more if needed
3 tablespoons red-wine vinegar
3 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper

Place all ingredients in a small, heavy-bottomed pot and bring to a simmer. Cook, stirring frequently, until most of liquid is absorbed and figs are soft. Pour into a food processor and purée until mixture has a jammy texture, adding Madeira or water to make spreadable.

Goat Cheese

1 1/2 pounds goat cheese, at room temperature
2 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon honey
juice of 1 lemon
1 cup buttermilk
2 packets unflavored gelatin
1 teaspoon kosher salt

In a medium bowl, using an electric mixer, beat first 3 ingredients on low speed until smooth. Set aside. Heat buttermilk in a medium saucepan until warm to the touch, add gelatin, and stir to dissolve. Pour into goat cheese mixture, add salt, and beat on high speed until very smooth and light.

To assemble, line a 9-by-5-inch loaf pan with plastic wrap, allowing enough overhang to cover the top. Divide goat cheese mixture into 3 portions. Layer the ingredients in order from bottom to top: pecans (curved side down), goat cheese, pesto, goat cheese, jam, goat cheese. Cover with overhanging plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 4 hours.

To serve, invert onto a platter and peel off plastic. Surround with crackers or crudités. Serves 20 to 25.

Turkey With Deviled Pecan–Sausage Cornbread dressing

Nick Badovinus, Neighborhood Services, Dallas

Roast Turkey

Nick’s mom’s recipe for roast turkey.

1 twelve- to fourteen-pound turkey
kosher salt and black pepper to taste
1 medium onion, coarsely chopped
2 ribs celery, coarsely chopped
2 carrots, coarsely chopped
1 to 3 cloves garlic
1/2 bunch fresh sage
2 lemons, halved
2 sticks (1/2 pound) butter, at room temperature
2 cups dry white wine
2 cups chicken stock

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Rinse turkey and pat dry inside and outside. Generously season cavity with salt and pepper. Stuff bird with onion, celery, carrots, garlic, sage, and lemons. Gently rub butter under skin of breast and on exterior of legs and thighs. Truss butcher’s twine and place on a rack in a roasting pan, breast side up. Season with additional salt and pepper (and don’t be shy).

Place turkey in oven. After 30 minutes, lower temperature to 325 degrees and add white wine and chicken stock to pan. In 20 to 30 minutes, baste with pan juices and continue every 30 minutes until done. If bird is browning too quickly, place a foil tent over breast. Cook 3 1/2 to 4 hours, until a meat thermometer inserted into a thick part of thigh reads 180 degrees. Remove from oven and let rest 20 minutes before carving.

Deviled Pecans

3 cups pecan


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