Chestnuts resemble large, dark brown hazelnuts
encased in a prickly husk or burr. There are usually
1-3 chestnuts per husk. Right at the heart,
beneath the husk, shell and inner skin, is a starchy
nut. Chestnuts have nothing to do with water
chestnuts or horse chestnuts (better known as
conkers in the UK).
From March to June we get the Spanish or
sweet chestnut, found at specialist fruit and
vegetable grocers but most likely to be found
on trees in home gardens. You can buy
canned chestnuts from supermarkets and
sweetened and unsweetened chestnut purée
from select delis.
How to choose
A good chestnut has a glossy, undamaged shell
and feels heavy for its size. Fresh chestnuts
need to be dried to prevent mould forming, but
shop-bought chestnuts will usually have been
dried already. To dry chestnuts, remove the husk
(wearing thick gloves) and either wipe down the
shell with a cloth or spread out in the sun until
the shell looks dry. Refrigerate in an airtight
container for up to three weeks.
How to use
The smell of roasting chestnuts from roadside
vendors signals the arrival of cold weather in
many European cities. They can also be added
to stuffing or purée to use in soups or gnocchi.
The French make candied chestnuts or marrons
glacés, and the Italians created a creamy chestnut
dessert called Mont Blanc. Sweetened chestnuts
are likened to caramel in taste and go well with
chocolate and cream in baking or desserts.
No matter how you cook your chestnuts,
they need to be slit from the pointed tip towards
the centre to prevent them exploding.
(A craft knife works well).
To boil, place in a saucepan of water.
Then bring to the boil and simmer for 15-20 minutes.
It is easier to remove the inner skin while they are still warm.
Chestnuts can be pan-roasted over a medium
heat, turning occasionally,
for 20 minutes, or in
the oven at 200 degrees C for 20 minutes.
Wrap them in a tea towel to keep them warm while peeling.
To peel chestnuts for purée, place in a
saucepan of cold water, bring to the boil and
cook for a minute before peeling, or place under
the grill until the skins split.
To make a savoury purée, simmer the peeled chestnuts in milk,
water, stock or a combination of these for
20 minutes, and then purée, using a potato
ricer or a food processor.
To make a sweet purée, simmer in a vanilla or cinnamon infused
sugar syrup until soft, then purée.
Make an autumnal soup with
parsnips and chestnuts.
Toss roasted, peeled chestnuts
through buttery brussel sprouts
with crispy bacon.
Boil chestnuts in salted water,
peel and eat in front of the TV
with a large bottle of ginger beer.
Make a stuffing for roast chicken
with chestnuts and porcini
Ten things to do with chestnuts
Potato and chestnuts dauphinois
Water chestnut salad
Apple nut pie
Walnut chocolate brownies
Almond And Marzipan Tartlets
Water chestnuts with chilli mayonnaise
Braised roast turkey with chestnut stuffing
Almond and sesame brittle
Pistachio and lemon shortbread