Roasted chestnuts are a staple food during the holiday season. They give whatever dish they’re in a beautiful earthy flavor that makes us think of home and family. Chestnuts are actually a very well-rounded nut, however, so thinking of them as only a holiday food is definitely holding them back from their potential. They go perfectly in soups, stews, roasts, and desserts as well, and should really be considered a year-round food. Unfortunately, a lot of supermarkets don’t sell them year-round because of their ‘holiday-season stigma’. Also, they’re not in season all-year-round…
Chestnuts are a winter food and will taste the best during the colder seasons, so there definitely is some truth to them being a holiday food, but you can find preserved chestnuts in water or syrup throughout the year. Just ask your grocer where you can find them, or do a simple online search for what stores have them in stock.
Harvesting and/or Choosing the Best Chestnuts
Chestnuts grow from trees. They start out as something called catkins, then mature into what we recognize as round, brown chestnuts. Chestnuts are not easy to harvest though — they are surrounded by a painfully sharp, spiny husk. Harvesting them with your bare hands is a sure way to get cut up and never want to look at another chestnut again, so if you plan on harvesting them yourself, wear thick gardener’s gloves!
When you choose which chestnuts to cook with, you should be looking for chestnuts that are very rounded and smooth. If they are still in their spiny hull, shake the hull. If the nut inside rattles, don’t take it! You want to find firm, healthy chestnuts.
Roasting Your Chestnuts
Roasting chestnuts is probably the most familiar chestnut-preparing method out there. The most traditional way of roasting your chestnuts is over an open fire. If you have a fireplace or fire pit, and plenty of spare time on your hands, roasting them in this way can be a fun way to utilize fire and to feel like you’ve been teleported back in time. How often do you get to cook over an open flame? Probably not that often.
Roasting Chestnuts Over a Flame
For this method of making roasted chestnuts, you will need:
Step 1 – Get your fire going. Just like when you grill, you want your flames to be low, and your coals or embers to be glowing. This can take a while, so make sure you start working on the fire early on so it’ll be ready when you want to start roasting. If you have an electric fireplace or fire pit, you can skip this step.
Step 2 – Prepare your chestnuts. While the fire is heating up, take this time to cut slits in the rounded side of your chestnuts. Traditionally, an X is cut into them, but you can put a single line, two parallel lines, a hashtag, or whatever else you can think of. An X is probably the best though.
When you cut into the chestnuts, be very careful! The smooth surface of the nuts make it easy for your knife to slip, so watch out for your fingers. That’s why using a serrated knife is best. Make sure that you cut deep enough that the knife goes completely through the outer and inner skin of the nut and reaches the meat inside. If you don’t cut deep enough, the chestnut is liable to explode while being heated up, and you don’t want that.
Step 3 – Roast away! Place your chestnuts into your cast iron skillet with the X side facing up. Don’t stack them on top of each other. The sides of them can touch though, so don’t get caught up with keeping them perfectly spaced and organized.
You can cover the pan with tin foil that you poked a few holes into. Keep the chestnuts over the fire for about 25 minutes, or until the shells have turned a very dark brown or black. Holding the pan over the fire for that long is definitely going to be a pain, so make sure you have a rack you can put it on that will keep the skillet close enough to the flames.
Step 4 – Cool and peel. Once you take the pan off the fire, let it sit for a minute. Then, spill the chestnuts into a kitchen towel and let them sit for another few minutes until they are cool enough for you to start peeling them. Don’t let them cool for too long, though. The longer you wait to peel them, the harder it will be to take the shells off.
Roasting Chestnuts On the Stove
If you don’t have an open fire pit or fireplace that you can roast your chestnuts on, roast them on the stove instead. The steps are basically the same, except this time, before putting the chestnuts into the skillet, and after cutting an X into them, soak the chestnuts in hot water. The water should have been boiling, then taken off the heat just before you pour in the chestnuts.
After about a minute, take the chestnuts out and put them in the skillet for roasting. This should take about 15 to 20 minutes on high.
Roasting Chestnuts in the Oven
The last way to roast chestnuts is in the oven. Set your oven to 400 °F. Cut and soak your chestnuts before putting them on a baking sheet and putting them into the oven for 15 minutes, or until the shells look dark brown.
What to Do With Roasted Chestnuts
So, you have a bowl of peeled, roasted chestnuts, and you may be wondering, ‘now what?’ As I mentioned before, chestnuts have huge potential. They can be utilized in meat dishes, sides, and desserts, too. Keep reading for a list of great chestnut recipe ideas that will hopefully inspire you to get cooking, and/or baking.
Chopped Chestnut Stuffing – You can add your roasted and chopped chestnuts to whatever stuffing you’re making, whether it be a bread-based stuffing or a meat-based one. Just put your chopped chestnuts in before cooking in the oven to let the chestnut flavor distribute evenly.
Fried Chestnut and Sausage Pasta – Cook the sausage and chopped chestnuts in a pan with butter and onion until everything is cooked thoroughly. Pour in some tomato sauce, heat some more, then put over pasta.
Chestnut Stew – Put your chestnuts in the liquid your stew will be cooked in. Make sure the chestnuts have enough time to completely soften. When you add in your other ingredients, the chestnut flavor will be mixed with everything and add a light, earthy flavor.
Chestnut Roast – This traditional chestnut recipe is super easy and definitely worth a taste. All you have to do is boil your chestnuts in a pot until they are soft and mashable. In another pot, boil some vegetables, such as carrots, celery, garlic, onion, etc. until they are soft. Then, pour in your chestnuts and mash, adding in butter and heavy cream, as well as salt and pepper. Put this in the oven until golden brown on top.
If you don’t feel like adding in vegetables, plain mashed chestnuts is a very popular side dish. Do everything exactly the same as you would with a chestnut roast, just leave the vegetables out.
Chestnut Vanilla Cake – Puree your roasted chestnuts in a blender or food processor and add them to your cake batter. Chestnuts go great with plain vanilla cake, but they’ll go well with chocolate cake, another nut-flavored cake, or even some fruit-flavored cakes.
Chestnut Pudding – Make a custard, then add a puree made from your roasted chestnuts, along with other blended or candied fruits and spices. This makes a very beautiful, delicate, and tasty dessert. You can put your pudding in a mold and freeze it into a fancy shape if you want to go that extra mile. Just make sure that if you want to do that, you add some gelatin into the mix.
Those are just a few of the amazing recipes you can make with chestnuts. If none of those sound good to you, hopefully, you now have some idea of a chestnut recipe you would like to try. Chestnuts are pretty easy to work with, so don’t wait until the holiday season to start experimenting with chestnuts. You can start now!