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For many, the aroma of chestnuts roasting (preferably over an open fire) signals a delicious beginning to the cold-weather months. These hearty brown tree nuts, which are available only from late fall through winter, are like no other nut we know—they’re slightly sweet, with a deep, rich flavor and a dense, starchy texture.

Popular the world over in both sweet and savory dishes, chestnuts can be cooked until tender, peeled, and eaten as is, or used in soups, salads, stuffings, and side dishes. Their sweet flavor is also great in cookies, cakes, puddings, tarts, and ice cream. So the next time you see them at the grocery store, give them a try.

Chestnut trees (Castanea sativa) are found in many countries, including China, Italy, Spain, Japan, and the United States. On the tree, the chestnuts are contained in a sharp, spiky husk, or burr, which can hold up to seven nuts at a time. Each chestnut has a hard brown outer shell and a bitter inner skin that must be removed before eating.

Low in fat, chestnuts are also an excellent source of fiber and vitamin C. Because they contain twice as much starch as a potato, they are used in Asia, Africa, and parts of Europe as a primary source of carbohydrates.

Chestnuts pair well with cabbage, mushrooms, carrots, sage, and pork in savory preparations, and with apples, cream, dried fruit, and chocolate in sweet dishes.

how to choose:

Look for chestnuts that are plump, firm, glossy, and heavy for their size. Avoid ones with bruises or cracks and those that rattle when you shake them, which means they have begun to dry out.

how to prep:

Never eat fresh chestnuts raw—they’re very tannic and tart, and their shells are almost impossible to remove. To eat or cook with a chestnut, you must first peel the shell and remove the inner skin. This is usually done by boiling or roasting. Boiling chestnuts mellows them, so use this method if you want to pair them with other flavors. Roasting yields a concentrated flavor, so use this method if you want to eat the chestnuts alone or if they’re meant to be the star of a finished dish.

To boil chestnuts, use a sharp paring knife to score an X on the flat side of each nut. Bring them to a boil in a pot of cold water, boil until they’re tender when squeezed (or poke them with a skewer, if you like), about 15 minutes, and then drain. When they’re cool enough to handle (but still warm), peel the shells and inner skin.

To roast chestnuts, soak them in a bowl of warm water for 25 minutes, while heating your oven to 400° F. Score them with an X in the same manner as for boiling above. Put them flat sides up on a rimmed baking sheet and roast until the Xs curl back into a crown shape and they are tender when squeezed, about 30 minutes. Peel while still warm, removing both the shell and the inner skin.

how to store:

Store them in a sealed plastic bag in the refrigerator for up to two weeks, or freeze them for up to three months.

Comments (6)

mihod writes: On peeling the chestnuts.

I do it the Japanese way.
1) Soak the nuts overnight.
2) Tip of the nuts will be softened and easy enough to peel using dull knife. This will take only the outer shell.
3) Soak again for about 3 hours in the water, this time add some baking soda.
4) Poach the nuts a few at a time in water for about 2min.
5) peel the inner skin. You have to work while they are still hot and skin is moist, if it cools before you get to it, you can put it back in the pot and re-warm.
I usually put 4-5 in the pot at a time, when I take them out, put the next batch in, peel the ones I took out, and repeat.
This way the nuts will not be cooked through. You can roast them boil them or put them in the dressing for chicken or turkey roast, steam them with rice. There's a lot of waiting time, but once you start peeling it's faster and it won't reck your fingers. Posted: 10:39 pm on October 10th

KNB writes: A few notes:
(1) Yes, you can buy chestnuts pre-peeled. My Whole Foods sells them in jars and Asian grocery stores sell them in vacuum packs with a zip-top.
(2) I wanted to warn others that you cannot use the soak-score-roast method of peeling the chestnuts 3 pounds at a time the way the recipe suggests. I might try prepping chestnuts at home again, but I'd prep no more than a half-pound at a time. The first nuts I shelled and peeled came out relatively easily, but the ones I did by the end of the 3 pounds nearly made me cry. Hours later, I eventually gave up and threw the last quarter or so of the nuts in the compost with a grimace.
(3) It seems worth noting that when you score the nuts, get through the inner skin. It helps in peeling them later.
(4) If anyone has experience with chestnuts and can give guidance on how to tell if the nuts one bought are bad, it would help. Some of the nuts I had were darker in color than others, but I couldn't say what the normal color variance should be.
(5) Be sure your blender is up to the task. Mine wasn't. Even in 6 batches, the blender sucked in an air pocket that kept the contents above the blade.

My husband loved the soup, but he didn't have to slave over it. I'm a veteran cook and soup-maker, and I've considered a career as a caterer, but this recipe wasn't worth the time required. Posted: 9:22 pm on January 24th

chapter4 writes: Love roasted chestnuts, but I find it hit or miss on peeling them. Any suggestions on easier peeling? Posted: 8:19 am on January 9th

miabella writes: I'm going to try boiling them first and then roasting them for a few minutes to give them a little toasty flavor. We've found that just roasting them, tends to leave them a little dry. I'll let you know how them come out.
Posted: 10:49 am on January 8th

xsivjosh writes: Can you make the chestnut soup without roasting and peeling chestnuts? Any other way to buy them? Can soup be frozen or made ahead? Posted: 5:01 pm on December 22nd

LuvChocolate writes: I love chestnuts.
I love ROASTED chestnuts.

Where's the instructions for roasting chestnuts?

Posted: 2:12 pm on December 22nd

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