MarS via Flickr
MarS via Flickr*

A rich chestnut puree, fragrant with bay leaf and fennel seed, is a wonderful alternative to mashed potatoes in the traditional Thanksgiving feast. But roasting enough chestnuts to make a puree for ten or twelve is laborious work. Instead I often use bottled vacuum-packed chestnuts (available in gourmet shops and many supermarkets), or frozen peeled chestnuts, both of which are excellent for cooking (very different from mushy canned chestnuts in water). When I find great chestnuts at the market, I oven-roast them to serve as-is, right out of the pan, for a surprising hors d’oeuvre. Years ago I figured out a way to make peeling easy: score the chestnut shell and soak them in water before roasting. Though not essential, chestnut knife helps in scoring quickly and accurately (no cut fingers).


Recipe: Roasted Chestnuts for Cooking or Eating

This method for roasting chestnuts makes the flesh sweet and tender and the nuts easy to peel. I score the chestnut peel first and soak them in water. The residual water left in the drained chestnuts creates steam in the hot pan, keeping them from drying out and making them easy to peel.

Yields 1 pound peeled chestnuts

1 1/2 pounds fresh chestnuts

With a sharp knife, make 2 criss-crossing gashes on the flat side of each chestnut. Place the chestnuts in a large bowl and cover with water by 1-inch. Let soak at least 1/2 hour and up to 1 hour. Preheat the oven to  400′.

Drain the nuts and arrange them in a roasting pan. Roast uncovered about 15 to 20 minutes until the shells are brittle and have curled back somewhat.  Remove and let cool slightly. When the chestnuts are cool enough to handle, peel off both the hard outer shell and the inner brown skin.

Recipe: Chestnut Puree with Fennel Seed and Bay Leaf

Makes 2 1/2 cups, 4 servings
2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 large shallots, finely chopped (1/2 cup)
1/2 teaspoon fennel seed
1 pound peeled chestnuts, vacuum-packed, frozen or fresh (see below)
1/2 ounce chunk dry cured ham or prosciutto (optional)
1 small bay leaf
2 cups low-sodium chicken broth
1 tablespoon heavy cream or creme fraiche, or butter, or to taste
Freshly ground pepper to taste

In a medium saucepan over low heat combine the olive oil and the shallots. Cover and cook until they have begun to sweat, about 5 minutes. Uncover and cook slowly until the shallots are golden, 5 minutes longer. Stir in the fennel seed and cook 1 minute longer. Add the chestnuts, ham, bay leaf and chicken broth. Cover and simmer until the chestnuts are falling apart, 30 to 45 minutes. Discard the ham and bay leaf.

Process the mixture in a food processor until perfectly smooth, at least 1 1/2 minutes. Stir in heavy cream if desired. Season with salt and fresh pepper to taste.

*Photo courtesy of MarS on Flickr via A Creative Commons License

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5 replies on “recipes: roasted chestnuts + chestnut puree for thanksgiving and…

  1. Sally,
    Sorry to be so obsessive about the chestnut peeling–just found your additional comments. I couldn’t help but notice the picture of the scored and roasted nuts are sliced across the “belly” as I suggested and not at you have described in your instructions. Also I agree, the chestnut knife is helpful.
    And thanks for enjoying and introducing folks to chestnuts.

  2. mmm, my additional comments… I’m a little confused.
    Are you the person who made the picture? I discovered I had an incorrect link and went back to try to find the source, and wasn’t able to. (If it’s you, please send the URL so I can correct it.)

    The confusion, I think is because in my haste, I responded to the visuals of the Creative Commons photo without looking if it corresponded to my directions, which are the way I’ve found works well. I appreciate you pointed out the discrepancy; it’s not obsessive at all. It’s something I should have caught.

    I actually think that making a criss-cross works best because the little corners curl back making it easier to peel. I’m not sure it really matters which side of the chestnut you make the cut on. I would love to hear back from other people about what they have found to work best.

    Thanks again for writing, Sally

  3. I roasted chestnuts last night and scored them as shown in the picture (before soaking for an hour). The flat end of the chestnuts was inpenetrable with my knife so I couldn’t make the criss-cross.
    The chestnuts were quite easy to peel this way. Now I want to try “smoking” them using the method Bittman describes in this week’s NYTimes for oven-smoked ribs.

  4. Stacey, thanks for the report. So, in other words, you had success, scoring them on the round side, right? Did you make a criss-cross or just a slash on the round end?
    And PLEASE let us know how the smoking goes.

  5. Well, nearly a year later and I’ve finally tried smoking chestnuts. I scored them sort of randomly (wherever I could get a purchase on the skin- some on the flat side, some on the round, always a crisscross), soaked them, and smoked them on the stove top over apple wood chips and a few dried sage leaves. It took about 45 minutes before the skin peeled back. They’re delicious!

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