Chestnuts are the quintessential winter treat, synonymous with Christmas, roaring fires and cosiness. They are a wonderful, healthy treat for the family on a late fall or winter afternoon, or as a seasonal, sweet and earthy ingredient to add to all manner of dishes. Here are the best ways to roast chestnuts, plus some peeling tips to make eating them easy and enjoyable.
How to pick the best chestnuts
If you are gathering chestnuts yourself, look for clean, shiny ripe chestnuts that have fallen to the ground. The trick is to get them before they have been there too long, and become insect or animal feed. If in doubt, leave the chestnut on the floor. It should be obvious which ones are in good condition. Another alternative is to buy them from your local market. Try and purchase locally harvested ones if possible.
How to cut chestnuts
Take a sharp knife and cut a cross into the top of the chestnut. Generally a knife with a serrated blade works a bit better. You can hold the chestnut in one and while cutting with the other, or you can place the chestnut on a chopping board and draw the knife over the top.
Should you soak them?
You don’t have to soak your chestnuts before roasting, but it does help a lot with peeling them and cutting them. Soak them in water for about an hour before you cut them and put in the oven, they will be easier to peel and moist inside.
How to roast chestnuts in the oven
Place the chestnuts, cut side up, in a roasting tray. Make sure not to overload the tray. Place the tray in a preheated oven at 200 C (390 F) and roast for 30-35 minutes, until you see the skins have shrivelled back allowing you to see the nut inside.
How to roast chestnuts on an open fire
Chestnuts benefit from soaking in water for an hour before cooking on an open fire. Don’t cook chestnuts on a fire that is roaring, let it burn down to glowing embers. You can place a cast-iron skillet on an open fire with the chestnut cut, as you would in the oven. Cook them for 30 minutes or so, until the skins peel back. Alternatively, you can wrap the scored chestnuts in a tinfoil packet and place inside the glowing embers. Cook them for 15 minutes. Unpack and allow to cool before attempting to eat them.
How to store chestnuts
Both cooked and raw chestnuts can be easily stored for months in the freezer. There are many different ways to preserve your chestnuts, from submerging in alcohol, to storing in sand, or preserving in sugar. Have a look at these methods and you’ll have delicious winter chestnuts all year round.
Chestnuts are not only delicious, but also nutritious. They can be enjoyed on their own or used as an ingredient and a range of savoury and sweet dishes. Try cooking chestnuts and then grinding them down to make chestnut flour that can be used in place of wheat flour for almost any recipe. When chestnuts are in season, get out there in the woods with a big bag, and collect as many as you can.
Rather than just being faux-meat, Mamu is different. It's a mushroom-based meat alternative that's getting its launch in restaurants so that chefs can test its versatility. Flora Tsapovsky investigates.