Chestnuts Demystified

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Have you ever tasted a chestnut?

If you buy them pre-cooked in jars at the store, they tend to be pricey. I believe I saw some last year for about $10 at wholefoods, and the contents of the jar was probably only about 2/3 cup. That seems prohibitively expensive to me, and so I had never cooked with them.

But then last week at the farmers market, I saw a pint of fresh chestnuts for $4.00. I snatched them up without a real plan for them.

When I got them home, I was like…how am I going to cook these little buggers? “Chestnuts roasting on an open fire?” That sounds a little dicey to me. So I researched a little and decided to peel and boil them.

And now I know why they are so expensive in the store…it is definitely a manual process but the taste…oh my goodness, chestnuts are SO supple and delicious with an earthy sweetness. And the texture is unexpectedly soft and creamy, they practically melt on your tongue.

If  you have access to reasonably priced chestnuts–at a market, a store, or if you have a neighbor with a chestnut tree–I recommend trying to cook them yourself at least once. After you taste them, you will know it is worth the effort!

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Ingredients

  • 1 to 2 cups fresh, raw, in-shell chestnuts
  • Water
  • Salt

Method

First thing you need to do is get the shell off, and this is a lot easier if you do a quick cook of the nuts first. Put a pot of water on to boil (you only need just enough water to cover your chestnuts by about an inch). Meanwhile, use a paring knife to score the shell with an ‘X.’ Try not to cut too deep into the actual nut when you do this.

Drop scored chestnuts into boiling water, turn the heat down to medium, and simmer for 5 minutes. Turn the heat off, and use a slotted spoon to remove a few chestnuts at a time from the water. They will be very hot, so let them cool for a minute or two before handling. Using your fingers, remove the shell and the fibrous covering over the chestnut. If any shells seem particularly stubborn, return to the hot water for a few more minutes to help loosen them.

TIP: You may find a worm in one or two of your chestnuts. How do they get there? I don’t know. But throw these chestnuts away. You may also find some chestnuts that look kind of black or otherwise “not quite right.” Don’t waste your time on them, just toss ’em and move on. Out of my pint, I probably had to throw away about 8 to 10 chestnuts. But there were still plenty to work with.

BONUS TIP: Removing the shells is the part that is a little tedious, so stream some Hulu or listen to a podcast while you work. :)

Once all your chestnuts are free from their shells, put a fresh pot of water on to boil, season generously with salt. Turn the heat down to medium, add your chestnuts, and simmer until they can be pierced easily with the tip of a knife, about 20-30 minutes depending on the size of the nuts.

Drain, and allow to cool. These will keep in the refrigerator for a little over a week.

Stay tuned for ways to use your delicious chestnuts!

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