All About…Chestnuts

fresh-chestnuts

Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire—Really?

What is it?

So, first things first, tasty chestnuts vs toxic chestnuts: who knew?
When talking about chestnuts, let’s clarify first: there are two common types of chestnuts to be found: delicious, edible chestnuts known as Sweet Chestnuts and toxic, dangerous chestnuts, known as Horse Chestnuts. Sweet Chestnuts are acquired through a reputable grower, grocer, farmer – wherever you buy food. Horse Chestnuts are found on the ground. Don’t pick up things off the ground and eat them. For clarification, see image below:

sweet chestnuts vs horse chestnuts
Left: three edible chestnuts with their tassel or point showing. Right: two toxic horse chestnuts without a tassel or point.

This post is all about delicious, healthy Sweet Chestnuts.

So, what’s the big deal?

Well, they made it into a song, didn’t they? Must be there’s something special about them. Chestnuts are healthy and delicious. Slightly sweet with just the right amount of crunch, chestnuts are a versatile, tasty, nutrient-dense food, loaded with health benefit such as improving digestion and protecting your heart. When preparing your chestnuts, you want those that are smooth, unblemished, and shiny. Discard any chestnuts that are moldy, cracked, blemished, or have holes.

Ok, then. How do I use them?

Raw chestnuts are not fit to eat. They must be cooked (hence, “chestnuts roasting on an open fire.”) There are multiple methods to cook chestnuts, depending on the flavor profile you are after and how you plan to use them, whether for snacking or cooking/baking.

First things first:

WARNING: Chestnuts EXPLODE if cooked without being pierced or halved first! Steam builds up inside the sealed nut, causing them to detonate like popcorn. You don’t want that in your open fire or oven.

Step 1: We always start by scoring our chestnuts.

Take your smooth chestnut, and notice how one side is rounded, the other flat. Place the flat side down on your cutting board and with a sharp paring knife, just cut a small slit. The outer shell is hard, but with a little bit of pressure, will give enough to score the nut. Mind you – don’t cut straight through, just halfway, making an X along the bottom. Scoring your nuts sets you up for easy peeling, once they’re cooked.

Step 2: Rinse your chestnuts.

Rinsing them removes bits of loose shell and helps retain the moisture of the nut, so that your finished nut has the delightful, creamy texture chestnuts are known for.

Chestnuts roasting on an open fire.

Totally a legit way to prepare your chestnuts. Open fire roasting imparts a slight smokiness and brings out the delicate sweetness of the chestnuts. For snacking / eating out of hand, this is the way to go.

You can acquire a special chestnut-roasting pan to roast your chestnuts. It is perforated / has holes in the bottom. This allows air to circulate and keeps the chestnuts from burning. Nice to have, but certainly not necessary.

special-chestnut-pan

  • With your gas burner. Using your fancy chestnut pan (or, a simple non-stick skillet), add your soaked chestnuts to the pan and cook over medium heat, stirring regularly. Your chestnuts will char, slightly, but you don’t want them to burn on any one side. You’ll start to smell their enchanting aroma and they will start to burst open at that seam. Cook 5-7 minutes, until they smell delightful and are mildly charred. Let cool before peeling.
  • With your barbecue. You can use your fancy pan, or maybe your veggie-grilling basket? Anything you can use on the grill. Again, we want to keep the heat at a medium. Because it doesn’t take too long to cook the chestnuts, if the heat is too high, you’ll burn them. About 5-6 minutes, they should start to expand. Let cool before peeling. Start at the split open seam and peel off outer shell. Like other nuts, there is a thin skin that you’ll also want to remove, before popping into your mouth.
  • Note: We do not recommend roasting chestnuts in your fireplace. Sure, it sounds all nostalgic, but in reality, it’s probably dangerous. Let’s just not do that.

Oven Roasting

Putting them in the oven is a great way to cook a lot of chestnuts at once and a chance to impart some flavor, if you so choose.

  • Parchment packet.
    400°F, 25 minutes. Wrapping your chestnuts in parchment keeps the moisture locked in, and gives you a chance to add some flavor. Spread your chestnuts over a large sheet of parchment. Using about 2 tablespoons of maple syrup, brush chestnuts with a pastry brush. Give them just a sprinkle of salt, then wrap up nice. Here’s a video on how to make a parchment packet. Roast at  400°F for 25 minutes.
  • Roasting pan. 350°F, 35 minutes. Or, ya know, if the parchment thing is too much trouble, it isn’t necessary. Spread your rinsed chestnuts on to a baking pan and roast for around 35 minutes, at 350°. You’ll smell them, when they’re about done, and they will be splitting at the seams. Let cool before peeling.

Boiling.

Not our first choice, but again, it depends on your desired outcome. Boiling is the best method when you’ll be cooking or baking with the chestnuts.

  • Par-Boil. After rinsing your chestnuts, add to a large pot and cover with cold water. Bring to a boil, then let the water boil hard for 3 minutes. Remove from heat. Leave the chestnut in the hot water and scoop out a few at a time to peel; as they cool, the become harder to peel. Keeping them in the water keeps them pliable. Be sure to fully cook your chestnuts in your final recipe.
  • Boil. To cook completely, bring water to a rolling boil, then reduce heat and let simmer 15-25 minutes. Remove from heat and leave chestnuts in the hot water as you remove a few at a time to peel. Note: you may find the cooked nut to be mushy as you’re peeling it. This method is best for when you plan to mash them, or make puree.

Chocolate Chestnut Tart with Chestnut-Vanilla Syrup

Yum, roasted chestnuts! What else?

Storing Your Chestnuts

Chestnuts are not like other nuts, and can’t be stored or cooked like them. If allowed to dry out they become as hard as dry beans, and impossible to chew; if kept too wet or too warm, they will mold.

To keep chestnuts fresh for several weeks, store them as you would carrots—in the refrigerator, in the crisper drawer. Properly stored fresh chestnuts will feel hard as rocks if you squeeze them. When you’re ready to use your chestnuts, you should them out of the fridge 3-4 days before you intend to use them, and spread them out where they can dry slowly at room temperature; chestnuts is that they become sweeter as they dry. When they are dry enough they will “give” just slightly when you squeeze them. Drying longer than 4 days will make the nutmeat feel spongy, although they are still fine to eat and cook with at this stage.

Are you inspired?

Share your Chestnut delights with us on our Facebook page.

LEAVE A REPLY

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.