I can’t help it - lyrics to a certain Christmas songs come to mind when I see Chestnuts. The imagery of an open fire and those fresh, steaming and slightly sweet nuts is enough to make your mouth water. Sadly, the closest thing to that picture for most of us is oven roasting some chestnuts or buying a jar, or package of roasted nuts, at the supermarket. 

Recently, a good friend gave me a pound of fresh chestnuts that had fallen from a tree in his yard. He mentioned that it had been a great year for chestnuts and he had a proverbial “bumper crop”. After discussing a few ways to use and store these tasty treats, I went home and started doing a bit more research.

Not like other nuts

Chestnuts aren’t exactly like other nuts and shouldn’t be cooked or stored the same way. Yes, they have a hard-outer shell, but that’s about where the comparison ends. Chestnuts need to be stored in a plastic bag like carrots in the refrigerator or they can be frozen for a few months, (in or out of the shell,) until the holidays. Even with proper preparations, there will still be some spoilage, so you should look for mold before eating the nuts. You may be able cut off the moldy parts and use the rest.

You want the meat inside these tough little nuts and the best way to remove it is a light steaming or roasting in the oven. Once roasted, the nuts can be used in either savory or sweet dishes – they have a  mild, but slightly sweet, flavor.


Removing the shell

There are a few different methods to remove the shells of chestnuts. All of them involve the use of a knife, preferably serrated, and heating up the nuts to loosen the shell. Your heat source can vary from straight oven roasting, warming in water before roasting, an open fire, or the microwave. 

Yes, I said microwave. The microwave trick comes from a local chef, but you will still need to roast or cook the nuts after you have removed them from the shell. Your method of preparation all depends on what you plan to do with the nuts.

Imparting flavor

Preparing over an open fire will impart some lovely wood smoke flavor to the nuts. If preparing in the oven, you can alter the flavor by adding some herbs, fat (butter or olive oil), and salt to coat them before roasting which is good for snacking or cooking savory dishes. If going for sweetness, you can sprinkle the roasted nuts lightly with cinnamon to yield a delicious holiday snack.

If you really want to give your holiday meal a special touch, try cooking some fresh chestnuts and adding them to your dressing, preparing a savory puree to serve with roasted meats or even a sweet puree to use in a cake or mousse. Live, Laugh, Love, and Eat Well.


Roasting Chestnuts

Courtesy of Epicurious

Roasting chestnuts requires heating the nut to basically steam off the shell.  Make sure that all your chestnuts are firm before preparing to roast.  A soft nut is generally inedible. Using a serrated knife, carefully score an X on the top of the shell on the rounded part. Be care not to cut yourself as the shell is hard and slippery.

Next, soak the scored nuts in hot water for about a minute. This will improve the steaming in the oven. Pat them dry on the outside. If you want to add flavor, now is the time to toss the nuts with melted butter or olive oil, rosemary or herb of your choice and a bit of salt. The amounts will depend on how many nuts you are preparing.

Preheat your oven to 350F. Transfer some of the nuts to a large piece of aluminum foil and form a single layer. Fold over the end of the foil to create a packet with a small opening in the top to allow steam to escape.  You want the nuts to stay warm while you peel the skin, so work in several small batches which can all be baked on the same baking sheet. 

Bake for 25 to 30 minutes then remove from the oven. Open the first parcel and working quickly, peel off the shells. A paring knife sometimes makes the job easier but don’t cut yourself. You can eat the nuts right away or store in the refrigerator for up to three days.

Removing the shells – Microwave method

Courtesy of Chef Sara Bradley by way of John Shadle

Working with a few chestnuts at a time (typically 2 or 3), score the top of the nut with a serrated knife. Place nuts in a microwavable container without a lid. Microwave for 10 to 15 seconds depending on the wattage of your microwave. Working quickly, peel off the shell.

These nuts are still raw and will need to be roasted or otherwise cooked before use.  You can place them in a vacuum sealed bag and freeze for a couple of months.

Chestnut Puree

Courtesy of NYT Cooking

Time 35 minutes

Serves 4 to 6

  • 1 LB peeled and skinned chestnuts
  • 1 cup fresh or canned chicken stock
  • ½ rib celery
  • 1 TBSP butter, unsalted
  • ½ cup hot milk
  • ¼ cup heavy cream
  • Salt to taste

Place the chestnuts in a saucepan with the chicken stock and celery. Simmer, covered for 20 to 30 minutes or until the chestnuts are soft. Drain well and discard the celery.

Put the chestnuts through a food processor or ricer. While they are still hot, beat in the butter, hot milk and cream using a small whisk or spoon. Salt to taste and serve hot.

I recommend serving with roasted Cornish game hens and sautéed asparagus with an oaked Chardonnay.

NOTE: Personally, I would chop up the celery and process it with the nuts and possibly add additional herbs to impart more flavor.  I would also use an immersion mixer to puree the mixture. If using a blender or food processor, be aware of working with hot liquids and the associated risks to avoid burns.

You can download the recipes of the week HERE!