In Season: Versatile Chestnuts
Have you ever eaten something for the first time and it felt familiar and homey—like something you might have eaten in a past life? I first came across chestnuts in a smoky food stall in Beijing, China, on a cool fall evening. A woman was slowly roasting them in a large metal container over open coals. One bite and I was hooked.
I’ve wanted to re-create this food memory for many years and now, living here in Michiana, I can. We are lucky to live in a region where these wonderful nuts are available at the end of the harvest season.
With twice as much starch as a potato, chestnuts are the perfect food to meet our starchy food cravings as the chill of winter sets in.
Look for fresh chestnuts at your local farmers markets. They are also available frozen year round from Fish Lake Organics at the Goshen Farmers Market.
Boiled, dried and made into flour, fried, grilled, raw, roasted, steamed.
Choose nuts that are heavy for their size with shiny, smooth shells. Give a squeeze to check that the nut inside is plump and full. After they have been picked, the nuts begin to dry out and shrink a bit in the skin.
Keep in the refrigerator to slow the aging and drying process.
Cut slits (or crosses) in the shells and partially cook the nuts either by roasting for 15 minutes or boiling for 20–30 minutes. The shells will now be fairly simple to break open. Carefully remove the brown inner shell with your fingers. Shelled and peeled, chestnuts can then be cooked according to recipe requirements. If you are planning to mash or purée the nuts, they should be further cooked until they resemble the consistency of a cooked potato.
Chestnuts go well with: apples, Brussels sprouts, butter, celery, chocolate, coffee, cream, fennel, honey, lemon, mushrooms, onions, pears, pepper, rosemary, rum, salt, sugar and vanilla.