Basic Chestnut Handling Rules


Though common and prized in Europe and the Orient, few people in the USA remember what to do with a chestnut, since our American chestnut tree was destroyed by a blight in the early part of this century. We've been working for almost 20 years to find ways to restore this missing part of Christmas, and are finally able to grow our new hybrid chestnuts successfully in Minnesota. Most of our nuts are a little smaller than the European standard, but they are also much easier to peel, and taste both sweeter and more hearty.

Eating chestnuts can be delightful or disappointing, depending on several factors:

1. Chestnuts are not like other nuts, and can't be stored or cooked like them. If allowed to dry out completely, they become as hard as dry beans, and impossible to chew; if kept too wet or too warm, they will probably mold.

2. To keep chestnuts for several weeks, store them exactly as you would carrots- in the refrigerator, in the "crisper" bin. To keep them for longer periods of time, they can be frozen, although this will somewhat alter their texture; or they can be intentionally, rapidly dried, and then re­hydrated by simmering for an hour or so.

3. Properly stored whole unpeeled chestnuts will feel hard as rocks if you squeeze them. To prepare them for eating, however, you should dry them slightly. A unique aspect of chestnuts is that they become sweeter when they are dried, and may taste bland and starchy if eaten right out of storage. Ideally, take them out of the fridge 2-4 days before you intend to eat them, and place them where they can dry slowly at room temperature. You can tell when they are dry enough, because when you squeeze them they will "give", about 1/8", and the peeled nuts will taste good raw. Longer drying will make the nutmeat feel spongy; they are still fine to eat and cook with at this stage.

4. Spoilage- Because they are so perishable, in spite of all we can do, a few nuts will turn out to be moldy, so look before you bite! Sometimes only a small part will be spoiled, and the good part may or may not still be edible. Occasional superficial dark spots on a nutmeat usually have no effect on taste.

5. Chestnuts Explode if cooked without being pierced first! Steam will build up inside the sealed nut, causing them to detonate like popcorn, only they just make a mess, they don't puff up. Before cooking, take a paring knife and make a simple deep cut all the way through the "tail" end of each nut; this will allow the steam to escape harmlessly. Cutting an "X" in the shell is traditional, but more work and not really necessary.

6. Cooking & Eating! Chestnuts can easily be undercooked or overcooked; only experience and experimenting will teach you how to get it right. A properly "done" nut should be mealy, not crunchy (undercooked), and light colored, not dark (overcooked). The shells and skins peel easily off a warm cooked nut. They can be simply eaten out of hand after roasting, or precooked in varying degrees before mixing in stuffing or other dishes. Small nuts cook faster than big ones.

Oven- try 350° for 10 minutes first- adjust time as needed.

Microwave- try high power for 2 minutes- batch size will make a big difference in time.

Open Fire Roasting- place at the edge of the coals, and wait 4-6 minutes, or until you see them steaming or hear them hissing. Highly recommended. Old-time teenagers used to put unpierced nuts in the fire, and bet kisses on whose nut would pop first...

Boiling- a convenient way to prepare nuts for dressing- cut nuts entirely in half, drop in rapidly boiling water for 1-2 minutes; cool and peel the shells and skins. Roasting usually gives a better flavor, since the skins are slightly bitter.

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