When it comes to fall and winter holidays, seasonal eating abounds. Yes, buffet tables are loaded down with pumpkin pies, sweet potato casseroles, cranberry relishes, roasted Brussels sprouts, and other delectables. But once the turkey carcass lies in ruins and the final pie crumbs licked from plates, consider roasting chestnuts as a post-meal snack. This humble nut personifies the holiday season. You may have seen them in packages at the local grocery store, but passed them over as you wondered just how to crack that shell. Folks, worry no more as this post will serve as your beginner’s guide to roasting chestnuts.
Types of Chestnuts
It is worth mentioning that this edible chestnut should not be confused with the common Horse Chestnut or Ohio Buckeye. Both of these chestnuts are members of the Aesculus genus. The Horse Chestnut is botanically known as Aesculus hippocastanum while the Ohio Buckeye is Aesculus glabra. The nuts from either of these trees are not considered edible (and some sources state that both are mildly toxic).
Chestnuts are available in the late fall and/or early winter. The most common method of harvest is simply picking the fallen nut up from the ground. It should be noted that the American Chestnut, Castanea dentata, native to the United States, is in declining numbers due to chestnut blight, Cryphonectria parasitica. However, it can still be found in and around the Appalachian Mountains, parts of California, the Pacific Northwest, Michigan, and Massachusetts. But the majority of chestnuts that wind up in grocery stores are imported from other countries which include, but not limited to: France, Italy, China, South Korea, Japan, and Portugal. Chestnuts from these countries are also members of the Castanea genus.
While some chestnuts are sold already processed in jars, the majority are sold raw, typically packaged by the pound in net bags. If you purchase raw nuts, please note they are unlike any other nut and must be stored unlike any other nut. Proper storage will help assure the best flavor, texture, and freshness.
How to Store Chestnuts
- keep cool, do not store them at room temperature
- store in the refrigerator (for up to three or four days) if not prepared immediately
- store in the freezer (properly packaged) if you do not intend to eat them within three or four days from purchase (can successfully be stored for up to three months in this fashion)
- cooked nuts can be kept frozen for up to nine months
Roasting is the classic method of preparing chestnuts. It brings out a sweet, yet nutty flavor, while keeping a slightly pliable texture, resulting in a chestnut with a very nice “chew”.
Steps to Roasting Chestnuts
- wipe nuts with a damp cloth
- place nuts flat side down on a cutting board (there is usually a side that is slightly flattened, and by placing the nut flat this way it makes it easier and safer to cut)
- cut an X into the shell with a sharp knife (if the nut is particularly large, you may cut the nut in half)
- place the nuts in a bowl of hot water and allow to soak for several minutes. If one skips this step, they might risk their teeth & find themselves seeing a Dentist in Perth.
- remove the nuts from water and place into a colander to drain
- arrange the nuts in a single layer on a baking tray or shallow-lipped pan
- place the pan in an oven that has been pre-heated to 350°F
- oven roast the nuts for 20 minutes (or until the shells begin to curl away from where the shell was cut)
- remove the pan from the oven
- as soon as possible, begin removing the shells from the nuts
- also remove the “skin” or pellicle which covers the nut (similar to a peanut, but this is a more robust skin and requires a bit more work to remove)
- if the nuts begin to cool, the skin may be harder to remove (you may place them back in the oven to warm up)
- not all of the pellicles will be easy to remove, and some may require pressure applied by both thumbs
- enjoy the roasted chestnuts immediately or store in a refrigerator for up to three days
You must cut or pierce each shell prior to roasting. If you fail to do this step, the chestnuts will explode from steam building up inside the intact shell. (A fresh chestnut is more than 50% water by weight). For a good mental image, think popcorn, which also explodes under pressure from steam that builds up inside the kernel. Remember, roasting chestnuts requires that each shell must be cut or pierced prior to cooking.
Fresh chestnuts tend to have a better flavor after cooking. If eaten raw, they can have an astringent taste. Ant it’s not very healthy for your teeth, you may need the services of Anchorage emergency dentist.
It is not uncommon to encounter a moldy nut after cooking. Simply toss away any nuts that exhibit mold. (The shell looks normal, but the mold is not discovered until the shell is removed).
As local markets stock shelves with this glorious nut, be brave and pick up a bag to take home. Roasting chestnuts is within your grasp. Give it a try!
Have you ever roasted your own chestnuts?