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How to Roast Chestnuts

How to Roast Chestnuts

Thanks to Nat King Cole (and various other artists) chestnuts are one of the most romantic foods of the Christmas season and man are they good!  They have a sweet, mildly nutty flavor and soft, almost creamy texture.  Roasted chestnuts make your house smell wonderful and are great for getting into the holiday spirit!  Prior to 1900, Chestnuts grew abundantly across the eastern United States and were a common American food.  Then around 1904, a fungus from an imported Chestnut tree swept the nation and within 40 years killed nearly every Chestnut tree in America (estimated at 3.5 billion trees!!).  Today few people have tried this delicious nut and that’s a shame because they’re really good!  Around the holidays many grocery stores carry them, typically in big open bins in the produce section.  I always get excited when I see them but most people walk right past because they don’t recognize what they are or they have no idea how to prepare them.  So I thought it would be helpful to write a post about a simple roasting technique that works quite well.  Enjoy and a very merry Christmas to you!

How to Roast Chestnuts

Ingredients:

  • Chestnuts (in shell)

Directions:

  • Preheat oven to 350.
  • Cut a large x across the entire front (flat side) of each chestnut.  I find it easiest to start in the center and slice downwards then repeat 3 more times for each of the x’s arms.  Make sure you fully puncture the shell, which allows steam to be released  during roasting (otherwise they can burst).   Chestnuts have an outer shell as well as an inner membrane that covers the nut like a skin.  Cutting deep enough to puncture this membrane will make them easier to peel later (it’s fine if you puncture the nut a little)
  • Spread chestnuts on a baking pan or cookie sheet in a single layer.  Bake for 30-35 minutes until the shells start to peel open and the chestnut meat is a golden yellow.
  • Remove from oven and peel as soon as they’re cool enough to handle – the inner peel is really hard to get off once cool.  Eat up!

Notes:

  • How to Use: I like my chestnuts hot out of the oven all by themselves (although a bit of salt, sugar or butter wouldn’t hurt!).  They’re quite sweet for a nut and have a soft almost creamy texture.  They can also be used in sweet or savory dishes including soup, stuffing, baked goods, puddings or as an appetizer wrapped in bacon (I’m drooling at the thought).
  • Choosing chestnuts: Chestnuts are notoriously moldy so it’s important to know how to identify a good nut.  Look for shells that are smooth, firm, slightly glossy and a tiny bit moist.  Avoid nuts that rattle when you shake them as well as any that are dull, wrinkled, noticeably lightweight or that look/feel dry.  Chestnuts tend to be the freshest in late fall and early winter.  By January they start to get funky.  I always buy about 25% more than I need because even the best looking nuts will have some duds.  And one last thing – Sometimes you’ll get a chestnut with just a little bit of mold and it’s tempting to remove the moldy section and save the remaining meat.  I’ve tried this and it did not turn out well.  Even though the rest of the nut looks clean, the moldy flavor (and probably some spores) contaminates the entire thing.  A little extra meat isn’t worth the flavor bomb!
  • Alternate cooking technique: The last time I made chestnuts I tried two different techniques.  I roasted half of them according to the directions above and the other half I boiled first and then roasted.  My results are split.  The boiled nuts were considerably easier to peel and most of them stayed in one or two big pieces.  The roasted nuts were harder to peel and many of them broke into 3+ pieces.  However, they were a little more moist and slightly sweeter.   In my opinion straight roasting is better if you’re making a small batch to be eaten alone.   Boiling first is helpful if you’re making large quantities or if you’re using them in a recipe.   The details for this alternate method are as follows:
    • Cut a large x on the flat side of each nut (same as above).
    • Place the nuts in a single layer in a pot or saucepan.  Cover with a couple inches of cold water, bring to a boil then reduce heat to a simmer.
    • Simmer for 10 minutes then remove from heat.
    • Peel chestnuts as soon as they’re cool enough to handle.
    • Spread the peeled nuts on a cookie sheet or baking pan and bake for 10 more minutes at 350.   Enjoy!

Photo Credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/__my__photos/5683022723/

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