Welcome to the Best Thing at Trader Joe’s, a series in which chefs and restaurant industry insiders share which TJ’s product is the GOAT (no #sponcon necessary). Today’s installment: Mark Bolton of Rolf and Daughters in Nashville on Thai Lime and Chili Cashews.
The thing about these cashews is that they’re completely covered with makrut lime leaves that are dried or fried or crispy. So you get such intense flavor in every bite. My fiancée brought them home one day and I was like, I think this is the best snack I’ve ever eaten.
The biggest thing is the amount of lime that’s on the nuts, and the amount of chili that’s on them — they’re pretty spicy. And cashews have a ton of fat to them, so they sort of coat themselves in their own oils when they get toasted, and then they’re seasoned pretty well with salt. It’s that umami thing: You just want to keep eating them.
A few years ago at the restaurant, I’d started using really sweet cantaloupes. And I’d done a dish in the past that was a hamachi crudo with melon, that had that Thai flavor profile. I wanted to make something similar that you could just pick up with your hands — an austere kind of dish. And it would have those Thai flavors that are sweet, salty, and spicy. So I started making my own version of the Thai cashews.
We use sugar baby watermelon — it’s like watermelon times ten: deep neon red, and seedless. We just slice it a big piece of the watermelon with the rind on it, and then we glaze the melon in a fish-sauce caramel. Then we just cover it with the cashews.
For the house mix, we use organic cashews, tons of lime leaves that we fry, and then blend that all together in a Robot Coup, so it’s a little easier to sprinkle and eat. And we use some chiles that we dry in-house. For me, it’s a little reprieve, because it’s pretty spicy and salty but then it mixes with the sweetness of the melon. We do it as a snack, but people will order it as dessert, too.