If you’re a regular NutGourmet visitor, then you’re probably aware I have a passion for chestnuts. Chestnuts are special gems with a very short season. By Christmas they will be a rarity in grocery stores, except for the Asian markets that import Chinese chestnuts.
So many people feel intimidated by chestnuts and haven’t the faintest idea how to cook, peel, and even incorporate them into a recipe. American grown chestnuts have just been harvested for the season, so this is the perfect time to jump in and give these wonderful nuts an opportunity to show their stuff in a delicious dish.
With the step-by-step guide that follows, you’ll see how easy it is to cook and peel chestnuts and store them until you’re ready to add them to a tasty recipe. Chestnuts have totally won me over. Give them a try—I’ll bet you’ll get hooked on them, too.
Step 1: This post shows a criss-cross cut on the chestnuts. I’m updating the technique to one that produces much better results for cooking and peeling the nuts. 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, choose one of the sides for the wide horizontal cut. The cuts allow the chestnut to release steam and prevents it from bursting open during cooking. Hold the chestnut firmly with one hand and make the cuts with the other. Use a very firm paring knife with a 3-inch pointed blade. Don’t be timid. Poke the tip of the knife right into the chestnut, about 1/4-inch to 3/8-inch deep.
Step 2: Put the cut chestnuts into a saucepan and add enough water to cover the nuts by about three inches. Cover the pot and bring it to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat to medium and simmer the chestnuts for 25 to 35 minutes. Then, turn off the heat. The shorter time will result in firm chestnuts. Longer cooking will make them softer to use in puddings and creamy recipes.
Step 3: Use a slotted spoon to remove only a few chestnuts at a time from the pot and put them into a small bowl. You’ll notice the horizontal cut allowed the shell to pull back, making it much easier to peel. The nuts peel much easier when they are quite warm. Have ready a bowl for the discarded nut shells and another bowl for the peeled chestnuts.
Step 4: Now you’re ready to peel. You can use the firm paring knife or a chestnut knife with the very short, curved blade. Fix yourself a nice cup of tea and prepare for a relaxed peeling session that might take 20 to 30 minutes depending on how many chestnuts you’ve cooked. Poke the point of the knife into the cut and pull up on the peel.
Step 5: Chestnuts have a hard outer shell and an inner soft skin called the pellicle. Sometimes both the outer shell and inner skin will come off together, but occasionally, they’ll have to be peeled away separately.
I hope you’ve rewarded yourself and tasted a few tidbits of broken chestnuts during the peeling session. The cooked and peeled chestnuts are now ready for incorporating into a recipe.
Storing the Chestnuts: If you plan to use the chestnuts within two or three days, cover them with plastic wrap and store them in the coldest part of the refrigerator. For longer storage, put them into a heavy-duty plastic bag and freeze them. Allow several hours to defrost at room temperature before using. Defrosting chestnuts in the refrigerator will result in mushy nuts.
Chestnuts are practically fat free! There’s nothing like them on the planet. Their appearance, flavor, and texture are not like any familiar nuts such as almonds or walnuts, yet they are classified as tree nuts. Chestnuts can be eaten raw but deliver far better flavor and texture with cooking. Once cooked, they are sweet with a creamy texture similar to cooked potatoes.
You can incorporate cooked chestnuts into beverages, soups, salads, stir-fries, casseroles, puddings, pies, and baked goods and desserts of all kinds.
Ready for a delicious chestnut side dish for the Thanksgiving feast?
A stunning dish with rich, complex flavors, this delectable stuffed spinach roll is a winning company entrée with irresistible charm. American grown chestnuts, delightful in texture and flavor, add a delicate sweetness that enriches the creamed stuffing. For optimal success, prepare both the spinach roll and the stuffing a day ahead and store them in the refrigerator separately. To prevent the spinach layer from becoming soggy, assemble the dish and warm it at 350 degrees for 15 to 20 minutes close to serving time. The Roulade can be warming while serving the salad or appetizer course.
CHESTNUT ROULADE FLORENTINE
Yield: 8 servings
2 pounds frozen spinach
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons water, divided
2 tablespoons plus 1 1/2 teaspoons powdered egg replacer
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon black pepper
Chestnut Veggie Stuffing
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1/2 head medium cauliflower, finely chopped
1 large red bell pepper, chopped
1 cup quartered cooked chestnuts
1/2 cup chopped onions
1/3 cup black raisins
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 cup unsweetened soymilk
1/2 cup cooked whole or coarsely chopped chestnuts
Salt and pepper
Pinch of cayenne (optional)
1 large unpeeled cucumber, sliced
12 cherry tomatoes, halved crosswise
1 tablespoon minced parsley, chives, or arugula
1. TO MAKE THE SPINACH ROLL, preheat the oven to 325 degrees and line a large jellyroll pan with parchment paper. Lightly oil the parchment and set aside.
2. Place the frozen spinach into a 4-quart saucepan, add 1/2 cup of the water, and cover the pan. Cook over high heat for 2 minutes, reduce the heat to medium, and cook about 3 minutes. Lift the cover, stir the spinach, replace the cover and cook about 6 minutes, or until the spinach is fully cooked.
3. Drain the water and squeeze the spinach through the fingers until it is bone dry. This step will take several minutes but is important to the success of the recipe. When the spinach is completely dry, place it into a large bowl.
4. Combine the powdered egg replacer and the remaining 1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons water in a small bowl and beat with a fork until thoroughly combined and foamy. Add it to the cooked spinach and mix thoroughly.
5. Add the salt and pepper, mix well, and spoon the spinach mixture onto the prepared jellyroll pan. Use the back of a spoon or a fork to spread the spinach into a rectangle approximately 9 1/2 x 13 inches. Bake the spinach for 20 to 25 minutes, remove it from the oven, and allow it to cool completely. Cover the jellyroll pan entirely with plastic wrap and store it in the refrigerator for several hours or overnight.
6. TO MAKE THE CHESTNUT VEGGIE STUFFING, heat the olive oil in a large, deep skillet. Add the cauliflower, bell pepper, quartered chestnuts, onions, raisins, garlic, and cinnamon. Cook over high heat, stirring frequently, for about 5 minutes, or until the vegetables are softened. Reduce the heat to medium.
7. Combine the soymilk and the 1/2 cup whole chestnuts in the blender and process until creamy. Add the creamy mixture to the cooked chestnut-vegetable medley and cook for about 1 to 2 minutes, stirring frequently, or until the mixture is thoroughly combined and thickened. Season the veggie stuffing with salt, pepper, and cayenne, if using.
8. TO ASSEMBLE THE ROULADE, preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Remove the spinach roll from the refrigerator and remove the plastic wrap. Place a clean sheet of parchment over the spinach roll, cover with another jellyroll pan, and invert the pan. Carefully remove the top layer of parchment and bake the spinach roll, uncovered, for 5 minutes to remove excess moisture.
9. Set aside 1 cup of the Chestnut Veggie Stuffing and spoon the remainder onto the spinach layer, placing it lengthwise down the center.
10. Lift one side of the parchment and use a knife to release the spinach roll from the parchment, if needed, folding it over the stuffing. Lift the other side of the parchment and fold the spinach over the stuffing. Use your hands to overlap the spinach roll and completely enclose the stuffing.
11. Bake, uncovered, for 15 to 20 minutes to warm through. While the Roulade is warming, spoon the reserved stuffing into a small saucepan and warm over medium-low heat.
12. Remove the Roulade from the oven and use a flatware knife to carefully slide it toward the edge of the parchment. Lift the parchment, Roulade and all, off the jellyroll pan and onto an oval or rectangular serving platter. Gently push the Roulade completely off the parchment and center it on the platter. Spoon the warmed stuffing over the Roulade lengthwise down the center.
13. TO GARNISH AND SERVE THE ROULADE, line both sides of the Roulade with the cucumber slices, cut side facing inward, and place a cherry tomato half on top of each cucumber half. Lightly sprinkle the top of the Chestnut Veggie Stuffing with paprika and minced herbs. Use a sharp, serrated knife to cut the Roulade into serving portions.
I place a high value on fresh chestnuts for the seasonal nuance and the ambrosial quality they bring to a dish. I’ve even attempted to substitute with potatoes or sweet potatoes because of their starchy nature, but neither measures up to the real thing. Nothing quite takes the place of the fresh chestnut. Invite them to dinner and perhaps they’ll become as high on your holiday shopping list as they have on mine.