Chef Harrison Keevil was destined to be pecan obsessed. “When I was young, my granddaddy had pecan trees all over his farm in Prince George, Virginia,” he says. “He had nutcrackers throughout his house with big bowls of pecans right next to them.” As chef and co-owner of Brookville Restaurant in Charlottesville, Keevil now nostalgically works pecans into his menu from late fall through early January, making special use of their buttery heft. “Their inherent oil coats the tongue like perfectly cured lard,” he says. To preserve freshness, buy pecans whole, in the shell. They should feel heavy for their size and shouldn’t rattle when you shake them.
For a spicy-sweet snack, blanch the nuts, then dust with powdered sugar. Bake them for fifteen minutes at 325 degrees, and finish with a sprinkling of chili powder. Keevil also recommends using pecans to crust pork, and he likes to marry them with bacon for a savory twist on brittle. But his favorite preparation involves nothing more than a nutcracker and a bowl. “I love getting them in the shell and cracking them open,” he says. “Not unlike when you devour a just-steamed blue crab.”