This is a post I wrote in the Fall of 2011 but did not get around to publishing, I thought I would go ahead and post it now…Fall always comes eventually!
Every year, as the hot Summer days become a thing of the past and the crispness of Fall is in the air, I always begin to think of one thing…Chestnuts!
Every year, without fail, when September rolls around my mind starts to drift to thoughts of chestnuts, when will they first appear in the produce section of my local grocers. It becomes a weekly ritual, will they be there early or will I have to wait to seem them appear. My local grocer, seems to bring them in towards the end of the year, around the middle of November, when the Holidays are just around the corner, which makes sense, but I could definitely stand to have them show up earlier, chestnuts are one of those things that I need to nibble on through out the Fall and into the Winter months! A month or two, around the Holidays, is just not going to cut it for me!
My love for Chestnuts developed in my adult years, up until then I hadn’t been introduced to them at all, but once I had my first taste I was hooked and my Fall became the time where I began to crave my yearly Chestnut fix. Every week I go to the store in hopes that I will find my little nuggets of happiness waiting for me, but I am let down when they are nowhere to be found. Next Week, right! And so the routine plays out, over and over again, until the week comes that I walk in to the store and find my precious Chestnuts waiting for me, I make a bee line straight for them, look at the price, look at how good they look, are they worth buying, are they in good condition…you would be surprised how picky I am when it comes to Chestnuts! They are not on the cheap side some years, this year was no different, roughly $3.50/lb, which I am willing to pay, if they’re of good enough quality.
I’ve spent so many years buying them, at all prices, and learning what to look for in a good chestnut and what to avoid in the bad, that I generally decide whether they are worth buying on sight alone. For me, a good Chestnut should be plump, the skin intact and without any scabs that indicate that a pesky little bug has gotten to it, and generally have a shiny skin, though some perfectly good ones are more matte in appearance, but I avoid any that seem mouldy. I pick one or two different Chestnuts up and give them a little squeeze to make sure that they are full inside and that the flesh has not dried out, the skin will give if it has and it will feel brittle to the touch and may even crack when minor pressure is applied to the chestnut. No matter how careful you are when buying Chestnuts, there will always be some that are spoiled and not worth eating, that just goes with the territory, but taking a couple minutes to assess the overall condition of the batch of Chestnuts is well worth the little time it takes, you greatly reduce the chances of getting a batch of nuts that are completely a waste of money.
I was lucky this year, the first batch of Chestnuts were beautiful and had very few duds in them, I had only a few that were not edible, to my standards anyway. I find that sometimes you will get some that have had a bug bore into the nut or some that are mouldy on the inside and the taste is just not right, the flesh for me takes on a bitter taste that I do not find pleasant at all. A good Chestnut when cooked will have a plump, fluffly texture to them and be nutty and totally delicious!
Back in the day, I used to cook my Chestnuts outdoors on my gas BBQ, a little thing like Winter was not going to stop me from enjoying my roasted Chestnuts! I always had a little path cleared out to the BBQ so I could dash outside and toss a handful of Chestnuts on the grill and let them roast away. It remains my favourite way to cook them, it’s fast and makes them so yummy. But these days, I live somewhere that I am not allowed to have a BBQ, so my backup is to use the oven. And on the days where I want a Chestnut fix, but I don’t want to wait the 30-35 minutes to cook them in the oven, the microwave will do the job and in a couple minutes, but the taste is somewhat different, they don’t develop that nutty flavour that you get from roasting them on an open flame or in the oven. Microwaved, they are more steamed, though still delicious and you can get your fix in a couple minutes if you don’t feel like waiting for the oven to cook them up for you.
Cooking Chestnuts is super simple, you must make a “X” cut into the nut, make sure you pierce the skin down to the flesh of the nut, this will allow for the steam to escape the nut as it cooks and not explode…and yes, they do explode, even sometimes when you’ve cut them properly, I’ve taken a number of hot Chestnuts to the head, but this happens rarely, but be prepared for it just in case!
If cooking them out on a BBQ, turn the burners onto high and let it warm up while you prep your nuts for roasting, then just toss them onto the grill, and go back every few minutes to give them a turn and move them around so they don’t burn on one side, adjust the heat as you see fit and use your own judgement as to when you think they look done. On a good BBQ, with good heat, it should take roughly 15-20 minutes to cook them through, keep an eye on them along the way since all BBQ are different, it may take less time or more depending on yours. I’m assuming your Chestnuts are large enough to not slip through the BBQ grills, if they aren’t then you’ll have to come up with some way to keep them from falling through, some tinfoil or a vegetable basket made for the BBQ can work just fine.
If you are cooking them in a regular oven, preheat to 350F, prep the nuts by cutting the “X” into the skin, use a baking sheet to bake them on and leave them to cook in the oven for around 30-35 minutes, check on them now and then to make sure they’re not burning, I generally find that 30-35 minutes is enough to cook them through, use your own judgement with yours as everyone’s oven is different.
By far the fastest way to cook a chestnut is by microwaving them, though you don’t get the full nutty taste that you get from roasting them, it will do if you want a quick fix but don’t have the time. I discovered this way of cooking them one day when I just really wanted to have some Chestnuts but didn’t want to wait, so I decided to experiment on whether or not I could cook them in the microwave. I cut the “X” into the skin, place them in the microwave and cook them on high for roughly 2 minutes, it may take a bit longer for larger nuts or a little less for smaller ones. Don’t be surprised if you hear one explode now and then, it happens, even if you’ve properly cut the skin!
As with all these different cooking methods, you’ll have to let them cool a bit before you can eat them. If you’re like me, you’ll be tempted the first couple times to tear right into them and burn your finger tips peeling them, it’s all part of the fun for me! My little ritual involves taking a hot Chestnut and rolling it around my hands a few times, holding it up to my nose to smell its nutty goodness, then tearing into the skin to pull out then flesh inside…nothing beats the first Chestnut of the season!