Chestnuts are a funny looking nut with a fuzzy covering over their hard shell. There are several varieties of chestnut trees in the U.S., Europe, and Asia. Due to high levels of tannic acid, chestnuts cannot be eaten raw. The fuzzy exterior must be removed, then the nut is roasted and the hard shell removed. The actual nut is starchy and low in fat, with a sweet flavor and meaty texture. Chestnuts are wild and cultivated. Reading Starting with Ingredients, I learned that cultivated chestnuts (called “marrone” in Italian and “marron” in French) are a single nut in a fuzzy case, while wild chestnuts (“castagna” in Italian and “châtaigne” in French) yield several small nuts inside a fuzzy case. Chestnut trees grow in temperate climates. In the U.S. blight has been a major problem for growing chestnuts, but the industry is making a recovery. To see what chestnuts look like on the tree, check out these photos by Maria over at the blog Scandi Foodie.
Buying, Storing & Cooking
Fresh chestnuts are highly perishable and should be stored in the fridge in a perforated plastic bag for up to a month. According to the Produce Bible, chestnuts can be frozen for about 4 months. Chestnuts can also be found roasted and peeled in vacuum packs or glass jars. The precooked chestnuts are a pretty good product, just know that they tend to break apart and are best used in stuffings and soups. Sweetened and unsweetened chestnut purée is also available- I like to use it in desserts and cake filling. Chestnut flour is made by finely grinding dried chestnuts, and it’s great for adding flavor and texture to baked goods and fresh pastas. Candied chestnuts called marrons glacés are delicious on their own or used to decorate cakes and cookies. Chestnuts can be roasted, boiled, puréed, and candied. They are delicious in rich, creamy gratins with other fall vegetables. Roasted chestnuts are a satisfying autumn snack. Check out 10 Ways Tuesday for more ideas on cooking with chestnuts.
Fresh chestnuts are sold in markets with the fuzzy case removed, leaving a hard outer shell that must be peeled to enjoy the nut. Removing this hard shell is tedious work and you’ll find many methods for getting it off. To see the roast then peel method look here. I like the microwave method Melissa Clark describes in her chestnut stuffing recipe from In the Kitchen with a Good Appetite. Williams-Sonoma even sells a cool looking knife solely for peeling chestnuts. If you don’t want to peel chestnuts, just buy the roasted and peeled ones vacuum packed in plastic or glass jars. No big deal.
-Mushrooms, parsnips, potatoes, pumpkin, onions, garlic, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, sunchokes
-Herbs: thyme, rosemary, sage
-Game: quail, goose, duck, venison
-Spices: ginger, nutmeg, cinnamon, star anise, clove
-Chocolate, honey, vanilla