Fresh Chestnuts, Delicious!
Fresh chestnuts are delicious. They add wonderful sweet, nutty flavor to recipes that can’t be replaced. Cooking and shelling the chestnuts can become a family activity as you prepare your holiday foods. Included below are easy to follow instructions and recipes for you to try. If you haven’t tasted chestnuts before, you won’t be disappointed! Bring some fresh chestnuts home and add them to your favorite stuffing and fresh vegetable dishes. Make your Thanksgiving recipes extra special with this seasonal and delicious addition!
Buying and Preparing Chestnuts
First, how much should you buy? One pound of in-shell nuts will serve 4 to 8 people. To prepare fresh chestnuts first you need to loosen the shell, which makes it easier to remove. This process also slightly cooks the nuts which brings out the flavor. The three best methods of loosening the shell and skin of the chestnut are microwaving, boiling, or roasting. Boiling softens the nuts and works well for making puree, while roasting or microwaving keeps the nuts drier and is better for making stuffing. If boiling, the quick method described below, is the easiest way to peel chestnuts for most recipes. Microwaving, is also fast and easy, imparting a freshly roasted flavor.
Using a microwave is a fast and easy way for the whole family to enjoy the taste of fireplace roasting. Make a slit in the bottom side of each nut or cut in half. It is important to at least make a slit or the chestnuts could explode! Place 8 to 10 chestnuts on a paper plate and use a roast setting for 2 minutes. Each microwave is different and you will have to experiment with your time and heat settings. When the nuts are roasted enough, the skins will begin to pull back slightly and the outer shell will separate easily from the nut.
Another variation for microwave use is to cut the fresh chestnuts in half. Lay them down in a small microwave dish with a small amount of water in the bottom. Microwave on simmer or low heat for 3 to 5 minutes. Usually the chestnuts will just pop out of their shells.
Method 1: Start the night before
If you have time to plan ahead, soak the nuts in water overnight to soften the shells. The next day, boil the chestnuts for about 1 to 1 1/2 hours before peeling. Using a slotted spoon, take out a small batch and drain, then peel off the shell and skin. Keep the remaining unpeeled chestnuts hot until you are ready to peel them as it is heat which keeps the shells and skins loose. No incision is needed using this method and the nut keeps it’s full flavor.
Method 2: The quick method
When you need to be quick about peeling the chestnuts, use your stovetop. First, lay each nut flat side down and cut it in two with a cleaver. Drop the split chestnuts into a pot of boiling water and boil for 3 to 5 minutes. Remove the pot from the heat and drain a few at a time. Peel off the shell and skin with a paring knife or use a small fork. Sometimes the nuts may just be popped right out of their skins. They will still have good flavor, although a little is lost to the water.
First, cut a half-inch gash on the flat side of each nut. If you don’t cut them, they might explode, so this is an important step! Next place them in a heavy cast iron pan or other oven-proof pan which you can also use on the stove top. Add one-half teaspoon butter to each cup of chestnuts. Shake over medium heat on stovetop until butter is melted. Put the pan in a 400 degree oven and let stand for 5 to 8 minutes. Remove from oven and peel off the shells with a small knife.
Do it while they are still warm, if they cool, they will be harder to peel. This method accomplishes shelling and blanching all in the one step.
If you do not want to use butter, preheat the oven to 350 degrees and place the slit nuts in a single layer in a baking dish and bake for 30 minutes. Then remove the shells and skins, as above.
Since fresh chestnuts are perishable and only available for a relatively short time, you may consider freezing extra for year-round cooking use. It is simple.
Prepare fresh chestnuts by boiling or steaming, and removing the shell and skin. Cool and then package in a freezer bag or container. Date, seal, and freeze. They are best if used within one year.
If your nuts dried out a bit too much in the refrigerator, you may want to try steaming. Cut the chestnuts in half and steam for 10 minutes. Drain and cool a bit, then remove the shell and skin with a small knife or fork. After steaming, add to your favorite recipe or dip in butter and eat while hot.
Place chestnuts in a small microwave dish with a small amount of water in the bottom. Microwave on simmer or low heat for 2 to 3 minutes.
Now that you have chestnuts ready to use, just add them to your favorite stuffing or vegetable side dish for a delicious variation. You may also want to try one of the chestnut puree recipes. Enjoy!
1 lb. chestnuts, shelled and peeled
1/2 cup milk
1/4 tsp. salt
1/2 cup butter
Place peeled chestnuts in a saucepan with the milk and mash with a fork or potato masher until smooth. Add the salt and butter and mix well over low heat. Serves 4.
Desert Chestnut Puree
Chestnut Dessert Puree may be served with a dollop of whipped cream for a simple but tasty dessert. You can also make prepare elaborate desserts by adding cream, liqueurs, or flavorings.
4 lbs. chestnuts, shelled and peeled
4 cups water, more if needed\
3 1/2 cups sugar or sucanat
2 Tbsp. pure vanilla extract
Milk, cream, or soy beverage (optional – to thin puree)
Whipped topping (whipped cream or vegan Hip Whip)
Use peeled chestnuts. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place the nuts in a large, heavy (cast-iron is good) saucepan. Add enough water to just cover the chestnuts, then add the sugar and vanilla. Stir until sugar is mixed in well. Bake, uncovered, for 2 to 3 hours. The time will be different depending on the dryness of the nuts. Check every 30 minutes and stir well. You may need to add more water if the mixture starts to dry out. Cook until the nuts are very tender and the liquid forms a thick syrup. Let the chestnuts cool completely in the syrup, then divide the mixture into batches and process into puree. Use a blender or food processor to make a smooth paste. Add some milk, cream, or soy beverage if you prefer a thinner puree. Spoon into serving cups and add a dollop of whipped topping. Garnish with a sprinkle of nutmeg or cinnamon if desired. Makes about 8 cups puree.