We’ve all heard the lyrics but few of us have tried actually roasting chestnuts on an open fire. It’s easier than you may think.
Each family has their own traditions with strong roots, some perhaps going back generations. Introducing new rituals into the holidays can seem a bit odd at first, but when friends and family ask for them again and again, you know it’s a tradition that will stick. Roasting chestnuts is one of those traditions that has faded but is experiencing a comeback. Whether in the oven or over an open fire outside or by a cozy fireplace, roasting chestnuts is an easy addition to your holiday fun.
A few facts about chestnuts:
• Store-bought chestnuts found in the US are mostly imported from Italy. The varieties of chestnuts, unlike apples, don’t vary greatly. Chestnuts are sold by their country of origin rather than their variety.
• Chestnut season is from October through December. Buy the last fresh chestnuts now before the season ends.
• Large chestnuts from Italy are shipped in kilos (2.2 pounds) and generally hold 38-40 nuts per kilo. Small chestnuts from Italy are 90 to 95 nuts per kilo. Allow for a bit of shrinking for imported nuts.
• Large chestnuts can be 2-2.5 inches in diameter. Shoot for a middle-range chestnut of about 1-2 inches in diameter or smaller for a fuller taste.
• Italian chestnuts usually have one flat side and one domed side. Chestnuts from the Far East (rare to find here in the US) are more round like walnuts and are lighter brown than Italian chestnuts.
• Chestnuts can get moldy. Fresh chestnuts are supposed to be refrigerated. It will be difficult to determine the nut’s freshness in the store. Buy extra in case the nut meat has black spots (which can only be detected once they are roasted and peeled. Don’t eat any nuts with black spots. The spots are usually mold).
Find a specialty shop that stores chestnuts in the cooler. A few things to check for when buying chestnuts:
• Puffy shell. If a chestnut feels puffy and the shell can be pressed in, then the nut inside may not be mature.
• Adhering shells. The shell should be relatively smooth and not clinging to the surface of the nut inside.
• Holes. Worms eat into chestnuts while they are still on the tree. Check for these holes. Soak chestnuts in water for a few hours before roasting to force out any worms still present.
• Outer shell mold. Chestnuts aren’t always refrigerated in transit. Don’t buy dirty, moldy or fuzzy chestnuts.
You’ll need to soak, dry, score and roast the chestnuts before eating them. Soaking will rid the nuts of any dirt or worms (which are unlikely to still be present but just to be sure). Dry the chestnuts thoroughly before you attempt to cut their shells. Scoring an “x” in the shell on the domed side (the flat side will face the fire), will keep the nuts from exploding while being roasted. It also helps with peeling later.
Roasting chestnuts can be done in a few ways:
• On an open fire, with a cast-iron skillet or traditional lidded popcorn roaster over embers for about 25 minutes. If you own a fire pit kit, this is a great way to put it to another use.
• In the oven, under a broiler for about 10 minutes until the shells start peeling away and the nut is golden brown.
• On the grill, in a fish or chestnut roasting pan (which has holes in the bottom), or wrapped in tin foil.
If you’re new at roasting chestnuts, take a few minutes to surf up ways and methods. Add the type of equipment you have to your search terms, i.e., “roast chestnuts with cast iron pan” “oven roast chestnuts with a dutch oven dish.” Also, there are boiling, steaming and microwaving methods out there if flames aren’t your thing.
Cool a bit and serve.
Peel the chestnuts while they are still warm but not too hot to touch. Toothpicks may be necessary to pry out the chestnut shell’s inner film from the nut meat. A melted butter and cinnamon sauce is often paired with chestnuts, but there are other options like hot pepper sauce. Plain nuts are delicious as well. Roasted chestnuts are a late fall treat perfect for the cold weather and holiday celebrations.