Ok, so the best way to roast chestnuts really is over an open fire, but I didn't have that option. SO, I did it in my home oven. Results - very good!
Recently, we stopped by Zilke's Farm Stand to say hello and see what was new. There was something truly new arriving as we walked up - freshly harvested LOCALLY grown chestnuts. The bonus - they are grown with out the use of chemicals and pesticides. They were just being delivered and could not have been more temptingly beautiful. We waited patiently while they were weighed and packaged and took home a gorgeous pound of them to try. I don't believe I have ever had chestnuts before, so I was excited to try them.
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They must be roasted in order to peel them. As I said, this is best done, to my understanding, over hot coals, but I used my conventional oven. It was easy!
The first, and perhaps most important step, is to score the chestnuts deeply enough to penetrate both the outer and inner shell lining. This is not as difficult or scientific as we feared when reading about the process online. Using a serrated knife, we laid each nut, flat side down (they typically have a round and flat side) on a dish cloth to prevent them from sliding while we scored them. This step is not hard, but it is necessary. As the nuts heat, steam will build and need to escape. If you do not score them, they WILL explode in your oven and scare the pee out of you! We cut an X in each one and then laid them out on aluminum foil (one online source said they might get messy) on a cookie sheet. Having preheated the oven to 425 degrees Farenheit, we let them roast for about 25 minutes. I watched them closely like a kid with a new toy. The X's worked beautifully, allowing the skins to peel open as they heated, making them a snap to peel.
As soon as they came out of the oven, we dumped them into a dishtowel and gave the lot of them a little squeeze or two. I could hear the shells crunching a little, as though they were loosening on the nutmeats. Everything I read indicated that they should be peeled while still hot it order to separate the nutmeats from the inner shell lining. So, I unfolded the towel and went to work. They peeled very easily. Since the shells opened so nicely at the point where we scored the X into them, I could just pull the shells apart and out popped the golden treasures.
Chestnuts have a unique texture and flavor. They remind me of squash. They are somewhat dry and not very "nut like." They had a subtle squash-like flavor with a hint of sweetness. We ate the freshly roasted ones while they were still warm and began dreaming about what we could make, with them starring as one of the ingredients. Mrs. Z from the farm stand made a delicious pesto with her fresh basil and chestnuts that sounds like a winner. I have also read about chestnut soup (not-so-surprisingly, using them like squash in the soup) that also sounds worthy of a try.
We only roasted about ten nuts from our pound, which left quite a few to store for a few days. This is where the nuts can get tricky. You can't store them in a sealed plastic bag as they will draw moisture and mold very fast. You also shouldn't leave them stacked, preventing air circulation. In the time it took us to roast ours, the ones in the bag we bought had begun illustrating the dangers of storage in plastic. Moisture gathered in the bag quickly, so I removed them and laid them out on the cool counter on a towel. I will need to get them roasted promptly and either eat them, incorporate them into a dish or freeze them for later use once roasted.
Chestnuts are a wonderful novelty snack and a great addition to my cooking repertoire. I will need to do a little more research to determine just how many I need to pick up before they are all snatched up at the farmstand!