What Are Chestnuts?
Chestnuts are the large edible fruit of the chestnut tree and are a popular food in Europe and China.
Chesnuts produce a delicate and slightly sweet flavor in the nut while softening the texture to potato-like consistency.
Raw chestnuts are not fit to eat, and that’s why cooking chestnuts are so important.
Eating Chestnuts Around The World
Chestnuts can also be candied—marrons glaced in French—and ground into a flour that’s common in soups and desserts. Corsicans fry them into donuts. Hungarians, French, and Swiss sweeten and puree them.
We are familiar with the line from the Christmas song, “Chestnuts roasting on an open fire,” but beyond that many of us have never cooked a chestnut in the kitchen, let alone on an open fire.
When Are They In Season?
Chestnut season runs from early October through late December. Look for healthy, unwrinkled shells and a glossy brown surface.
Dingy or mottled shells may indicate mold, and small pinholes likely indicate that worms have been drilling; avoid such nuts. Fresh chestnuts are firm to the touch and heavy in the hand, with no space between the shell and the meat of the nut inside.
The best cooking methods allow you to cook the nut in the shell, and then remove it when it’s softened. You’ll need to use a sharp pointed knife to slice either a horizontal slash or a large X along the flat side before roasting or boiling.
To boil, cook them completely in their skins, simmer for 15 to 25 minutes, then peel and use, but don’t be disappointed if they fall apart as you peel them.
This boiling method to fully cook the chestnuts is best used when you will be mashing the chestnuts or pushing them through a sieve for puree.
Chestnuts work well in savory dishes as well as sweet ones. They are often used as a substitute for potatoes or pasta in Europe due to their high starch content.
Mashed or whole braised chestnuts are good partners with sweet potatoes, carrots, mushrooms, brussels sprouts, and cabbage. Most Americans use them in stuffings and desserts.