Chestnuts are the large edible fruit of the chestnut tree and are a popular food in Europe and China. Cooking chestnuts produces a delicate and slightly sweet flavor in the nut while softening the texture to a potato-like consistency. Chestnuts can also be candied—marrons glaces in French—or ground into a flour that's commonly used in sweets. Corsicans fry them into donuts, while Hungarians, French, and Swiss sweeten and puree them.
You've probably heard the beginning of "The Christmas Song": "Chestnuts roasting on an open fire." But there's a good chance you've never cooked a chestnut in the kitchen, let alone on an open fire. This guide will take you beyond the song with tips and tricks for cooking chestnuts at home.
Raw chestnuts are not fit to eat, so it's important to cook chestnuts before serving. The best cooking methods allow you to cook the nut in the shell and then remove it once 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. This keeps the chestnuts from bursting and makes them easier to peel.
Chestnut Boiling Tips
To boil and peel the nuts, cover the chestnuts with cold water, bring to a boil, and simmer for three minutes. Remove from the heat. Carefully scoop out a few at a time and peel off the shell and skin with a sharp knife. As they cool, they become more difficult to peel, so keep them in hot water until you are ready to peel (without burning your fingers!). Proceed with your recipe using the peeled nuts, making sure you finish cooking them completely as part of the dish.
To boil and cook them completely in their skins, simmer for 15 to 25 minutes, then peel and enjoy. Don't be disappointed if they fall apart as you peel them since they will be very tender. Boiling the nuts until completely cooked is the best method when you will be mashing the chestnuts or pushing them through a sieve for puree.
Watch Now: How to Roast Chestnuts in the Oven
Chestnut Roasting Tips
To roast chestnuts, make cuts as described above. They can potentially explode from internal pressure if not pierced. Place on a baking sheet in a preheated 400 F oven for 15 to 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Serve and peel hot.
To roast in a fire, take an aluminum pie plate and punch rows of small holes for steam to escape. As with the other cooking methods, make cuts in the chestnuts and place on a grill over white-hot coals. If you have a chestnut roaster for the fireplace, all the better. Shake the pie plate periodically and roast until tender.
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.
They are commonly used in stuffing and dessert offerings. While you can find them fresh, especially around Christmas, you can save time and energy by buying canned whole chestnuts or chestnut puree. Use them in recipes when fresh ones are out of season.