How to Cook Chestnuts

Nothing can compare with hot roasted chestnuts on a cold winter’s day. Peeling the hot shells from the deliciously tender meaty nuts, careless of burnt fingers in the desire to get to the nut inside and dip it ceremoniously in a little salt before eating. They are perfect when bought from a street vendor who serves up a small paper bag of hot chestnuts with a little bag of salt.

Here in Greece the first chestnuts start appearing on the market stalls around October and are available right through the winter. I’m astounded when I read that some people have never tasted a chestnut as they are so utterly delicious and so easy to cook.

It is important to choose them well by casting a careful eye over the nut to ensure there aren’t any small holes, as if a little worm has burrowed inside they need to be to be tossed aside when opened, but there are inevitably a few bad ones in most batches. The second thing to do when choosing them is feel them; a good chestnut will be firm and not have a little pocket of air when you squeeze it. Don’t buy the ones which aren’t solid when you press them as they will most likely be bad.

Once you have your chestnuts there are so many ways of preparing them for a snack. As they have a habit of exploding when heated you need to make a small slit in the shell with a sharp knife, and this is best done on the flat bottom rather than the rounded top. One slit is all you need make in each nut.

The tastiest way to cook them is atop a wood burning stove if you have one. Just pop them on and when they start to brown turn them over. You can tell when they are done by the change in colour, the skin will darken and the nut inside, as observed through the slit, will change from white to light brown. You want the internal nut to be cooked until tender without being burnt. The external shell will protect the nut even if it becomes burnt. The shell is more likely to burn if you cook them by the other traditional method of laying them in the embers of a wood fire.

Chestnuts can be roasted in the oven by simply making the small incision again and popping them onto a tray. About 20 minutes in a hot oven should be enough. They can also be grilled under a stove grill or cooked on the barbecue.

You can even cook the chestnuts by boiling them and they haven’t (as yet) exploded without bothering with a slit. This method softens the shells much more. Once boiled they can be eaten straight away or over the next few days, but if you plan to do other things with the chestnuts rather than just eating them from their shells this is the time to peel them in readiness. The inner layer of very fine shell like casing can be eaten if the nuts are boiled.

If you have never had the chance to taste a chestnut or just didn’t know what to do with them, take the plunge. There is no need to miss out on this winter treat and they are a nutritious low fat snack. Your children will have great fun peeling them and soon be hooked on this very healthy nut.