When most of the country is prepping to stock up on holiday gifts each Black Friday, I’m doing some stockpiling of my own... at the local supermarket. For the brief weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas, barrels of sweet, starchy fresh Chestnuts are available, ready to be roasted.
In a season where centerfolds of over-the-top seasonal desserts beckon me from every glossy foodie magazine I encounter, there’s a lot to be said for finishing off a festive holiday gathering with communal bowls of fresh-roasted chestnuts instead. When the dinner plates are cleared and friends linger around the table over tea or wine, I find that slowly peeling away at a fresh chestnut is a calming ritual of sorts, preventing idle hands that might otherwise be tempted to make quick work of, say, an entire gooey pecan pie. Chestnuts finish off the meal with a hint of sweetness and lend themselves to being enjoyed slowly and shared among friends.
How to choose, roast and eat fresh chestnuts
Before I met my husband, roasting fresh chestnuts was something that I thought only happened in Christmas carols. But he taught me the fine art of choosing the best chestnuts…
- squeeze fresh chestnuts before buying and and select ones that are nice and hard
- any softness or “give” means they’re not fresh and will be impossible to peel once you’ve roasted them
… and roasting fresh chestnuts:
- score a small “x” on the flat side with a paring knife (a MUST… this allows steam to escape and prevents a chestnut explosion in your oven)
- lay them score side up on a baking tray
- sprinkle them lightly with water
- bake them at 400 degrees in a toaster oven or 425 degrees in a conventional oven for 10-15 minutes
- Note that roasting times will vary by oven; look for the scores to start curling back as an indication that the chestnuts are done. Alternatively, you can take one out and test its done-ness by carefully peeling it (use a dishtowel or gloves…it’ll be hot!) and seeing if the nutmeat is nice and soft.
… and eating fresh chestnuts:
- just peel off the hard outer shell from the open flaps created by your x-shaped scores–while they’re still warm. (Get cracking on the peeling as soon as they’ve cooled just enough to handle.)