COOKING AND PEELING CHESTNUTS
Posted by Zel Allen's nutgourmet on February 12, 2009
Chestnuts reside on my favorite pedestal. There is a tendency for many people to avoid using fresh chestnuts because, admittedly, they are a bit time consuming to prepare. I promise, though, they are totally worth the time expended. Here’s the technique:
Using a firm, sharp paring knife, make a horizontal cut completely across the domed or rounded side of each chestnut. If both sides are flat, make the cut across one of the sides. Place the chestnuts into a large saucepan, and cover them with about 3 inches of water.
Cover the saucepan and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat just slightly to medium-high, and boil the chestnuts gently for about 25 minutes for the large Asian chestnuts purchased in the market and about 35 minutes for chestnuts grown in the U.S..
Roasting is another method of heating the chestnuts so the peels can be removed. Pile the crisscross-cut chestnuts onto a baking sheet and roast them at 375 degrees for 15 to 20 minutes. Cool them slightly and peel away. Some chestnut aficionados suggest soaking the chestnuts for about 20 minutes before roasting, claiming it makes them easier to peel.
Still another method for heating chestnuts prior to peeling them begins with making a crisscross cut on the shell. Then put them into a large, deep skillet with a small amount of oil, about one tablespoon for each pound of chestnuts in the shell. Turn the heat to high and cook them for 5 to 10 minutes, tossing the chestnuts continuously with a wooden spoon or shaking the pan to prevent the direct heat from burning them.
I prefer the boiling method because sometimes the roasting and stove-top methods result in chestnuts that also need to be boiled to soften them enough for most recipes.
Now, prepare a cup of tea for yourself and sit down at the table with the pot of cooked chestnuts on a trivet. Have a bowl handy for the peeled chestnuts and another for the shells. Take out three or four chestnuts at a time and put them on a small dish or bowl in front of you. Cool them only slightly–they peel more easily when they are quite hot.
Using your paring knife, take hold of the shell close to a crisscross cut, and remove the shell with a pulling motion. You will also need to remove the brown inner skin as well. Be prepared for a little tug-of-war. Sometimes the inner skin is a bit stubborn. If it is too resistant, the chestnut may need to be cooked a few more minutes.
As the chestnuts cool, they become a little more challenging to peel. It’s best not to fight with them. Just put the pot back on the burner and heat them up for a few minutes so you can finish the task with ease. Just be sure there is enough water in the pot to cover the chestnuts. The job can actually be fun if you can convince your family to participate in the peeling project.