Related to the walnut, pecans are native to America, and grow enclosed in a glossy, browny-red oval shell. The kernel inside shares the walnut's trademark grooved surface but has a slightly more even, oval shape. Its skin is a warmer, lighter brown, and the nut itself is creamier in colour.
Sweet and rich, the pecan's distinct flavour and texture is the result of its high levels of monosaturated oil - in fact, it's the fattiest of all nuts. It goes well in both savoury and sweet dishes, most famously pecan pie, a classic recipe from the American south.
Shelled pecans are available all year round. Unshelled pecans are around during autumn.
Choose the best
When buying unshelled pecans, look for those that are smooth and uncracked and avoid those that rattle when they're shaken. Shelled pecans should be sold in airtight packaging.
Pecans in their shells can be opened using a nut cracker. Eat raw, as they are, or toast to bring out more of their flavour: place the nuts on a baking sheet in a single layer and bake on a medium heat for 10-12 minutes. They are ready when the kernels turn golden.
You can achieve the same effect by dry frying them: put in a dry frying pan over a medium heat, and keep the pan moving to make sure they colour evenly and don't burn.
Unopened packets of pecans should be stored in a cool, dry place - they'll last for up to 3 months. Once opened, they should be kept in an airtight container in the fridge and eaten with in 7 days.
Add to salads or muesli; use for baking; eat on its own, or as a snack to accompany drinks.