This popular nut is the seed kernel from a fruit similar to peaches and apricots. Almonds are used in both sweet and savory cooking. Fresh almonds have a mild flavor that's intensified when toasted. A variety known as bitter almonds is not eaten fresh, but is used to make extract.
Available year-round, almonds are at their peak harvest in November. Though you can find them in their hard shells, you'll most often see them shelled, in several forms: whole, slivered, and thinly sliced.
5 to 5-1/2 ounces (whole shelled) = 1 cup coarsely chopped = 1 cup plus 2 Tbs. finely chopped = 1-1/4 cups ground
You can often substitute walnuts or hazelnuts for almonds; the flavor will be a little different, but the effect will be similar.
When buying whole almonds, look for plump, unbroken nutmeats. Avoid those that are discolored or shriveled. If you are able to taste the almonds before purchasing, choose nuts that are sweet and crunchy. Rancid nuts have a bitter, unpleasantly oily taste.
A rancid nut can ruin an otherwise perfectly prepared dish, so always taste several nuts from the batch before you use them. To skin almonds at home, blanch the nuts by pouring boiling water over the them and letting them sit for several minutes before slipping off the skins. You may need to dry them in a low oven for several minutes if using right away. To toast almonds, spread them in a single later on a sided baking sheets and bake at 350° F until fragrant and lightly golden.
Because they contain oils, almonds can go rancid. Keep them in a cool, dry place for up to a few months. For longer storage, storage them airtight in the freezer.