Who needs an open fire to roast chestnuts? You can do it yourself using your oven! It’s a relatively simple process, though peeling them does take some time and patience.
Did you know that chestnuts are sometimes referred to as the “bread of the mountain”? This is because, unlike other fatty tree nuts, chestnuts are much higher in carbohydrates. In northern Italy, before the arrival of corn, ground chestnuts were a key component in making polenta. In early 19th century America chestnuts were very common; so common, in fact, that farmers would allow their pigs to fatten up by eating the extra chestnuts that had fallen to the forest floor. The high quality lumber produced from chestnut trees was often used in furniture making and construction. During the first half of the 1800s a blight that arrived with Asian-imported trees nearly wiped out the American chestnut. Those trees were eventually replaced with heartier and more resistant chestnut trees, which are the type we see most often today. Chestnuts are now viewed as more of a seasonal holiday luxury. If you’ve ever traveled to New York City, you’ve surely noticed the sweet smell of chestnuts being roasted and sold by street vendors. It’s intoxicating!
Nowadays, you can generally find pre-roasted and shelled chestnuts at most major supermarkets. If you’d rather take on the task of making them at home, I’ve created the following step-by-step tutorial that will help you along the way. The delicious aroma that will fill your kitchen is an added bonus! Keep in mind that roasted chestnuts are best eaten right away, as they mold and spoil fairly quickly.
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- Preheat your oven to 425 degrees F. To prepare your chestnuts, grasp them firmly between your thumb and index finger and carefully make a long slice across the rounded top of the chestnut with a sharp serrated bread knife. Careful, the shell is slippery. You should be able to slice it in one motion. If you have trouble cutting through, use gentle sawing motions, don't force the blade down or you run the risk of cutting your hand.
- Be sure to cut all the way through the shell.
- Once all of your chestnuts have been cut, place them into a small saucepan and cover with water. Bring to a simmer.
- Once the water begins to simmer, remove the chestnuts from the water using a mesh strainer or slotted spoon and transfer them to a baking sheet.
- Roast for 15 minutes, or until the shells begin to peel back where you cut into them.
- Remove the chestnuts from the oven. Place them into a bowl and cover with a towel for 15 minutes. Allowing them to steam a bit will make them easier to peel.
- Once the 15 minutes have passed, simply pull on the shell and slip the chestnut out. Some will be easier to peel than others. Both the outer shell and the tough brown skin around the chestnuts should be peeled off. If you run into any nuts that seem gooey or disintegrated inside, it means that they have spoiled. Chestnuts tend to have a short shelf life, spoiled nuts should be tossed.
- Voila! You now have freshly roasted and peeled chestnuts. They're not the easiest things to peel, but these tender, sweet and fragrant nuts are a welcome treat during the winter months.