Fresh chestnuts become available in the fall and continue to come to the market throughout the winter. When truly fresh, chestnut skins should be glossy,
unwrinkled, and the nut should feel heavy in the hand. Chestnuts have an outer shell and an inner skin that seal the nut. Both shell and skin must be
removed before eating. The secret to cooking fresh chestnuts successfully is learning how to cut the shell, so that when they are cooked both the shell and
the skin beneath will come off easily. Like popcorn, chestnuts have a closed shell with moisture trapped inside. When roasting chestnuts, the moisture
can forcefully pop the nut open. Always slit the shell to allow the steam pressure to escape. Otherwise, the nut will burst with a small explosion. As
opposed to most other nuts, chestnuts have very little oil, making them virtually fat free. Chestnuts are high in complex carbohydrates and contain high
quality protein comparable to eggs.
Prepare Chestnuts for Roasting
Wash chestnuts in cold water then soak them in lukewarm water for about 20
minutes. The soaking helps to soften the shell and makes it easier to cut.
On the flat side of the chestnut, make an X-shaped cut with a knife. Keep the
slash shallow so that you do not cut into the chestnut meat.
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.
Spread the gashed chestnuts on a baking sheet and place on the middle rack
in the oven. Roast the chestnuts for 15-25 minutes (depending on their
freshness). You may wish to turn them over after 5-10 minutes for a more
evenly roasted chestnut. They are done when tender throughout. Take them off
the baking sheet and put them in a paper bag or wrap them in a towel. This will
help to steam them a bit, causing the skin to separate more easily. After 10
minutes, remove them from the bag or towel and transfer to a work surface.
The chestnuts will peel more easily when they are still warm. If they cool off
too much and become difficult to peel, put them back in the oven for a few
minutes to reheat. They are ready to serve as is or use as an ingredient in
your favorite recipe.
Other Methods for Cooking Chestnuts
1. Wash chestnuts and cut slash in shell as outlined above. Then put the
chestnuts into a pot of boiling water and boil for 30 minutes. Allow to cool
enough to handle them and peel while still warm.
2. Wash chestnuts and cut slash in shell as outlined above. Place nuts in a
large skillet on the stove top and cook over medium heat for 15-20 minutes.
Allow to cool slightly and peel while still warm.
3. Chestnuts can also be cooked over an open fire in a wire basket or a special
perforated chestnut pan.
Chestnuts, unlike most other nuts, are very perishable. They are comprised of
40-50% water and, if not stored properly, can become prone to mold. To store
them properly, place in an airtight container in your refrigerator. Here they will
have a shelf life of about 4 weeks. Chestnuts can also be stored in the freezer
for future use.