Cooking Chestnuts

Want to give cooking chestnuts a try? Here in France, roasting chestnuts is a common activity in the fall when the chestnut harvest appears. If you are lucky enough to find fresh chestnuts in the grocery store, there are a number of different methods you can use to cook them.

Note: Chestnuts tend to rot and get worms, so if you do find fresh chestnuts be sure to use them quickly. Fresh uncooked chestnuts should feel heavy in your hand and when you shake them you shouldn't hear the nut rattling around inside.

Fire Roasting Chestnuts

Before heating them, it is very important to make a slit in each chestnut with a sharp knife, otherwise they will explode when you are cooking them. The kids might think this is fun, but it also promises to be dangerous and messy. Cut an X in the side of each chestnut, making sure you cut all the way through to the meat.

For cooking chestnuts over an open fire it is best to have a special roasting pan that has a long handle and holes in the bottom. Slit the chestnuts and place them in one layer in the pan. Place the roaster on a low fire, shaking occasionally. The chestnuts will open up and the insides will be toasty brown when they are done after about 20 minutes.

Alternatively you can try a popcorn popper that goes on the fireplace as well. If you use one of these, which has a lid, you could skip slitting the chestnuts and enjoy the popping sound as they open.

Cooking Chestnuts in the Oven

Roasting chestnuts in the oven works just as well and requires no special equipment.

  • After slitting the shell, spread chestnuts on a baking tray and bake at 375° F for 20 minutes, or until the shells start to peel back and you can easily remove the meat.
  • Remove from the oven and let cool just enough so you can handle them before shelling and peeling (there are two layers to get through), or better yet let everyone shell and peel their own and enjoy straight away. The chestnuts become more difficult to peel as they cool.
  • Wrapping them in a clean tea towel as they cool somewhat can make them easier to shell.

Boiling Chestnuts

You can also try cooking chestnuts simply by boiling them. This is a good method if you are planning on making puree from the chestnuts or using them in another recipe.

  • Rinse the chestnuts with running water, and cut them in half checking for worms and mold. Place the halved chestnuts in a pot of cold water.
  • Bring the pot to a boil and allow to simmer for about five minutes before removing from the heat. The exact amount of time will depend on how big the chestnuts are and how soft you want them to be.
  • Using a knife, remove the shell and inner skin under cold running water. Once again this process works best with hot chestnuts, so leave the chestnuts in the hot water as you are working, and perhaps work in small batches. You might want to wear gloves to protect your fingers.

One pound of quality fresh unshelled chestnuts yields about two cups of shelled.

Other Ways to Get Your Chestnut Fix

Can't get enough of the tasty chestnut? Here are some other ways to enjoy chestnuts year round:

  • Chestnut Puree: Try this in both the sweetened and the unsweetened version for a super ingredient in dessert and other recipes. Or just enjoy it as it is: delicious.
  • Marrons Glacés: Those are candied chestnuts and are the holiday treat in France.
  • Canned Roasted Chestnuts: By using canned chestnuts you'll be able to easily make all your favorite chestnut recipes whenever the notion grabs you.
  • Chestnut Flour: This is a gluten free flour that can be used to make crepes, breads, and cakes. It's nutty flavor goes especially well with chocolate and other nuts.

Go from cooking chestnuts to Basic Cooking Tips.

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