Roasted Chestnuts

Chestnuts roasting in Ljubljana

Chestnuts are a perennial autumn nut.  Wander through any European city during the fall or winter months and you can see roasting on just about every street corner.  You can easily follow their distinctive sweet fragrance to the closest vendor.  There is nothing better than eating hot roasted chestnuts from a paper cone as you roam the streets.  This time of year chestnuts are also abundant in the markets.  From chain grocery stores to neighborhood shops and the grand vegetable markets, bins of the nuts are everywhere.  Not only are chestnuts good to eat “as is” they add body and complexity to other foods.  Whether combined with roasted vegetables and bread dressing or as a main ingredient in a  soup, they add rich complexity to any dish.

Roasting chestnuts at home isn’t hard but it is time consuming.  Last November in a fit of over ambitious insanity, we hosted a lunch for twelve two days before our sit down Thanksgiving dinner for twenty-four.  Thinking I could multi-task with my ingredients, I planned a chestnut apple soup for the lunch and a chestnut sage dressing for Thanksgiving dinner. Even with the able hands of my visiting parents (who for some reason haven’t visited since) Glenn and I spent hours trying to pry the roasted chestnuts from their shells.  I couldn’t figure out why they were being so stubborn and at that time I vowed that until we had access to shelled chestnuts I would not be including this tasty ingredient in any of my dishes.

Fast forward a year………….we are heading into Thanksgiving week and chestnuts are once again on my menu.  This year, however, my menu and guest list are saner and I have a plan.  I also did more research and I think I may have found an easier roasting and shelling method.  Chestnuts must be cooked before being eaten.  Various methods call for boiling, broiling, roasting, or grilling the nuts before shelling them.  In pure experimental mode, I used three methods for cooking my chestnuts:  grilling on the gas fired grill, broiling in the oven, and roasting in the oven.

X marks the spot
ROASTED CHESTNUTS

Regardless of which method you chose, it is necessary wash and score the nuts before cooking.  I used a small paring knife to cut a large “X” on the flat side of each nut.  Given the large quantity of nuts I had, this was a time consuming, and if one isn’t careful, dangerous task.  Fortunately I only stabbed my thumb once on this go around.



Oven Roasted Method:  Place the scored chestnuts on a piece of tinfoil, add a small amount of water, and wrap to form a packet.  Place the packet on a baking sheet and roast in a 350 degree oven for 30 minutes.

Chestnuts ready to roast

Grilled Method:  Place the scored chestnuts in a grill basket and grill over a 400 degree grill for 20 minutes.  Shake the basket every five minutes to ensure that the nuts cook evenly and none of them scorch.  You can also place the nuts directly on the grill but you will then need to use tongs to turn the nuts.

Chestnuts on the grill

Broiled Method:  Place the scored chestnuts on a baking sheet and broil under high heat for 10 minutes.

You will know the chestnuts are cooked when the nuts are fragrant and the shells split open.  Once they are cool enough to handle, peel the shells and the inner skin from the nut.

So which method did I prefer?  By far, the broiled nuts were the easiest to shell.  The grilled method worked well too but for some reason I found the roasted nuts to be extremely difficult to shell.  From now on if I can’t buy my chestnuts from a street vendor I’ll be cooking mine at home under the broiler.

The payoff

Try your chestnuts in the following recipes:

Fine Cooking’s Chestnut Soup with Crisp Prosciutto
Saveur’s Chestnut Pound Cake
Williams-Sonoma’s Pear, Chestnut, and Sage Dressing 
Williams-Sonoma’s Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Bacon and Chestnuts

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