Roasting chestnuts is a traditional way to cook them which intensifies the sweet flavour with a hint of smokiness. Shells are slit to prevent explosions and the chestnuts are cooked in the oven, on the stovetop, under a grill, on a BBQ or (if you really want to be traditional) on a shovel in the embers of a fire until the shell splits open at the cut, or you see steam or hear them hissing. The only problem is shelling the chestnuts, especially if you are roasting a large batch. Successful shelling requires the chestnuts to stay warm.
When collecting chestnuts I cannot resist peeling the shell and eating a few raw, the papery skin still intact. I hit upon this idea when roasting a batch of garlic bulbs. Why not de-shell the chestnuts and then roast them? Hot from the oven the skins are crisp and the chestnuts soft. Coated with your favourite sweet or savoury spices they make great snacks. The papery skin is not that great for sweet chestnut recipes, but in a chestnut loaf , burger, risotto or stuffing mix its hardly noticeable. It has become my preferred method for roasting chestnuts to use in savoury recipes so I’d though I’d quickly share it with you. The traditional method of roasting chestnuts reserved for winter evening treats with friends and family.
You don’t need any specialist equipment, just a sharp knife – you do need to be very confident with a knife and be very, very careful; a roasting dish; tin foil and vegetable oil. Choose chestnuts which are large heavy dark brown with smooth glossy shells. If you have collected your own “wild” chestnuts discard any with mould, splits in outer shell or tiny holes and hang them in a netted bag in a cool dry place for a couple of days.
So here’s what you do
Pre heat the oven to 200C / 392F. Whilst the oven is warming, prepare your chestnuts.
As I’ve already said, you need to be very confident with a knife and be very, very careful. Never hold chestnuts in the palm of your hand and always use flat surface such as a chopping board.
Make a slit in the bottom of the shell along the flattened surface. Continue to cut carefully along the flatted surface to the top of the shell and peel back the shell to reveal the chestnut. Remove the rest of the shell.
Discard any nuts which are rotten. It is not worth cutting off the rotten parts as it tends to affect the whole nut making it mealy in texture – as you can see in the photo on the right.
Before long you should have a quantity of shelled chestnuts and a substantial amount of shells.
Transfer the peeled chestnuts into a roasting dish and evenly coat the nuts with an unflavoured or very mild-flavoured vegetable oil (not olive oil). Cover the dish with tin foil and seal around the edges. Place the tray on the middle shelf of your oven and roast for twenty minutes.
After twenty minutes remove chestnuts from the oven and carefully remove the tin foil allowing the steam to escape away from you before removing the foil completely. Your chestnuts are done. The skins will be crispy and turned a darker brown, the centres will be soft and tender.
You can serve them almost immediately as nibbles or a snack, sprinkle them with your favourite sweet or savoury spices prior to serving or allow them to cool and use them in your savoury chestnut recipes.
You can also freeze them for later use. Spread them on a tray, place in the freezer and when frozen transfer them in bags removing as much air as possible to prevent freezer burn or if you have a vacuum sealer, vacuum seal your frozen chestnuts. Don’t forget to return the chestnuts to your freezer!
If you try this alternative method to oven-roasted chestnuts I’d love to hear from you. Oh, and I will be adding a post for oven-roasted garlic shortly … when I make my next batch that is. Interested? Why not follow me and get new posts direct to your email?