Sunday, October 25, 2009

PSA: Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire

Chestnuts are a lovely seasonal item that shows up at least a couple times a year at farmer's markets around here. They're dissimilar to other nuts due to their much higher sugar content and their soft, chalky texture when cooked; because of their natural sweetness, they are equally at home as either dinner or dessert. You can use them in many different types of recipes - like the rice we made, or a creamed chestnut soup - or you can just eat them out of hand. But often the first step is roasting them, so in honor of the coming holiday season we thought we'd give you a little tutorial here.

While we hear that you CAN roast chestnuts on an open fire, we prefer to do it in a hot oven. First, preheat the oven to 425F. Then set each glossy chestnut on its flat side and gently score an "X" into the round side with a knife. It is easiest to do this with a serrated knife, using a sawing motion - just pressing down on these slippery little nuts with a normal blade can be tricky.

Set the chestnuts in a single layer on a foil-covered baking tray, scored side up. Drizzle some drops of water on the chestnuts with your fingers - the exact amount isn't critical, but it'll help to keep them moist.

Place the tray in the oven and let the chestnuts roast for ten minutes. Then remove the tray and flip all the nuts so that their scored side is down. Replace the tray in the oven and let it go another ten minutes.

When the chestnuts are done roasting, they'll look a bit like the above: some of the skins will begin peeling off on their own. The meat of the nuts will be soft and somewhat flaky.

Now is the fussy part - peeling the chestnuts. Grab the skin of each chestnut at the "X" where it has already begun to peel and tug it off the meat. Sometimes the skins will fall right off, and some will need some assistance. So far we haven't found any reliable predictor of which it will be...

But when you're done, you'll have a bowl full of warm, golden, aromatic roasted chestnuts to enjoy!

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