Contrary to what you may have been told, you need neither an open fire nor Jack Frost nipping at your nose in order to enjoy roasted chestnuts. We didn’t have a fireplace growing up, and yet every winter, particularly around the holidays, we enjoyed the fragrant, toasty, delicious chestnuts that were prepared in the oven. Not a wood burning oven…just a regular oven, like the one you probably have in your kitchen.
Chestnuts are large nuts which grow in very large trees called Castaneas, found in the hilly forests of China, Japan, Europe and North America. Early in the 20th century, the North American chestnut tree was almost wiped out due to a pathogenic fungus, but it survived, and there have since been major efforts to ensure it continues to thrive. Good thing too, because chestnuts are not only delicious, they are full of good for you goodness. Lower in fat and calories than most other nuts, they contain significant amounts of vitamins and minerals; 100 grams of peeled chestnuts contain 72% of your daily requirement of Vitamin C and 21% of your daily fiber needs. Impressive.
Chestnuts are primarily composed of starch, making them in some ways more similar to sweet potatoes than to almonds. Because of this, they tend to spoil easily, especially if exposed to air or humid conditions for too long. When shopping for fresh chestnuts, choose large, firm nuts whose outer shell appears intact. Avoid any chestnuts that have a greenish mold anywhere, either on the outer shell or within the folds of the nut once it is peeled. At home, store them in the refrigerator, where they should keep for a couple of weeks.
Prior to roasting your chestnuts, make sure that you score them with a sharp knife or a specialized chestnut gadget (which we hear exists, but we’ve never seen one). In any case, you need to make sure to cut open some of the shell before placing the chestnuts in the oven. If you don’t, they will literally explode; chestnut shrapnel everywhere.
You can also boil your fresh chestnuts, and our parents would sometimes use this technique too. In many ways, it is easier, but we don’t find they are as delicious as the roasted ones, and your house won’t smell like Christmas. Still, it is often a good option, especially if you have something else baking in the oven. Simply place your chestnuts in a saucepan of boiling water, cover, and boil over medium-high heat for approximately 30 minutes. Remove from heat, and let sit for an additional 5 minutes. Remove from water, drain and then peel. Our parents never score their chestnuts before boiling them, but many recipes recommend that you do so. Who knows what’s best?! All we can say is that they have not had any issues not scoring chestnuts they will boil.
Mia Kouppa: Chestnuts
- Chestnuts (as many as you like)
- Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit
- Prepare your chestnuts by giving them a rinse and then scoring one end to let steam escape.
- Place on a baking sheet and bake in lower rack of oven for about 30 minutes. Keep an eye on them; you can tell that they are ready when the shells start to peel back
- Remove from the oven and let cool slightly. Then, peel both outer shell and inner brown skin and enjoy the chestnut meat while still warm from the oven