I have been blessed in life with a good handful of positive and useful traits – for this I am truly thankful. However, I failed to bathe in the genetic pool that would marinade and bestow me with patience, tolerance and a high boredom threshold, hence; peeling chestnuts is not what I am made for.
To overcome this weakness, I asked (bribed & begged) helping hands to make this task more manageable. In return for this much appreciated labour, I would cook for and water (bevy up) my guests, at my own expense. The decided dishes were:
Whichever way you look at it, there is just no simple and quick way to peel chestnuts – we tried ALL methods; roasting, cooking in a pressure cooker, and boiling. Our conclusion and verdicts were
Roasting & Peeling Chestnuts:
- Score the top of the chestnuts with a large X, ensuring you cut through the shell
- Place on a baking tray in a preheated oven at Gas Mark 7 (425°f) for 15 to 20 minutes until the shells burst open and begin to darken
- Remove & peel as soon as possible – the skin becomes crisp so you can just peel off the shell and rub the remaining skin away.
Verdict: Produced the best tasting chestnuts, was reasonably fast and easy, chestnuts remained whole although were a little dry. Great method for doing a small batch for just one recipe, as you would need to do a few batches for a job lot.
- This time we tried scoring an X in the top with some, an X at the base of the nut with others, and also a cut through the whole diameter, to see which would be easier to peel – it really was a long night, aided only by some fabulous beers, jeering and blues music to evoke the ‘chain-gang’ feel.
- Place the scored chestnuts in a pan of water, bring to boil and simmer for 10 minutes
- Take the pan off the heat and remove 2 or 3 chestnuts at a time to peel. Wear rubber gloves to do this quickly when they are still at their hottest & are easier to peel.
Verdict: The chestnuts tasted good, although had lost some of their flavour in the boiling process, we cooked down the liquor though, and used in the recipes for extra chesty punch. This method was quite easy and because the shells were soft, we could just squeeze the chestnuts out quickly. Ideal for large amounts of chestnuts, especially recipes requiring them crushed. You will have to move quickly though.
Pressure Cooking Chestnuts:
Well, as above really, although some chestnuts exploded – ideal to do on Nov 5th when short on fireworks. This method does work well, although the chestnuts cool much quicker and become harder to peel.
After many long, laborious and tedious hours, I have come to the conclusion that I may be better off financially and socially to buy chestnuts from the shops. However, the experience of peeling fresh chestnuts is a learning curve, vaguely enjoyable, and the results – delicious! My advice, rope in some friends and make it a joint effort; bribery is essential.
Chestnut Recipes & Verdicts:
Chorizo and Chestnut Soup
Oh boy, this was good – a thick, hearty soup packed with flavour and a backlight of spicy heat – warming, delicious and very comforting. This was without doubt my favourite recipe, the guys however, thought it was good although preferred the beef – maybe it’s a bloke thing?
This superb recipe is from Moro, The Cookbook by Sam and Sam Clark, forwarded to me by @FoodUrchin. It is straightforward to prepare and cook, and the result is a bursting with flavour, taste extravaganza. I have not changed the recipe at all – and I won’t.
500g/16oz Cooked Chestnuts – roughly chopped
4 tablespoons olive oil
1 large Spanish onion, diced
1 medium carrot, diced
1 celery stick, thinly sliced
120g/4 oz mild cooking chorizo, cut into 1cm cubes
2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 ½ teaspoons finely chopped fresh thyme leaves
2 small dried red chillies, crushed
2 tomatoes, fresh or tinned, roughly chopped
20 saffron threads, infused in 3-4 tablespoons boiling water
1 litre water
Sea salt and black pepper
- In a large saucepan heat the oil over a medium heat. Add the onion, carrot, celery, chorizo and a pinch of salt and fry for about 20 minutes, stirring occasionally until everything caramelises and turns quite brown. This gives the soup a wonderfully rich colour and taste.
- Blitz the soup in a food processor, then return to the saucepan and combine. Now, add the garlic, cumin, thyme and chilli and cook for 1 or more minutes, followed by the tomato and, after about 30 minutes, the chestnuts. Give everything a good stir and then add the saffron infused liquid, and the water, and simmer for about 10 minutes.
- Remove from the heat and mash by hand (with a potato masher) until almost smooth but still with a little bit of texture. Season with salt and pepper.
Beef & Chestnut Casserole
A very simple and superbly flavoured casserole – the meat becomes tender & succulent (I used aged shin of beef,) the sweet, soft chestnuts came through and contrasted well with the deep, concentrated beef stock and slight kick of the full bodied wine. I served this with Brussel sprouts & bacon, and mashed celeriac. It was just lovely, and made the guys gush – which is a rarity!
This delicious recipe is so simple to prepare and cook. The resulting dish is rich, unctuous and full flavoured. The original recipe is from the BBC Good Food site, although I have changed it slightly by adding garlic and cutting down on the carrots as it was just overly sweet.
450g beef (shin, braising, chuck steak), cut into cubes and tossed in seasoned flour
1 onion, chopped
2 sprigs thyme
2 garlic cloves, chopped
300ml fresh beef stock, or from a cube
200g cooked, peeled chestnuts, fresh or vacuum packed
1 large carrot, sliced
250ml red wine (I’d recommend a Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot or Bordeaux)
1 tbsp Olive oil
- Fry the beef in the oil over a high heat until browned in a small casserole dish. Add the onions and keep frying until they start to brown.
- Add the garlic and fry for another minute or two, then add the thyme, wine and stock, bring to the boil, then turn down the heat and simmer for 1 hour, lid on.
- Add the carrots and chestnuts, season and cook gently for a further hour, lid off.
This simple Italian dessert, passed onto me by @aforkful is not only a pleasant way to finish a meal, it is also a superb base recipe to make sweet chestnut puree for other recipes. However, we all agreed that this was far too sweet, even though the crème fraîche and deep bitter chocolate offered a welcome balance. I would put less sugar in next time, so you can taste more of the chestnuts and vanilla rather than sugar, as per my revised recipe.
A recipe from the former Marche province of France where chestnuts grow. Fresh chestnuts are essential. The original recipe can be found here.
I have cut down on the sugar just a little in the below recipe, to cherish the flavours of the sweet chestnuts and vanilla. Also, sans pastry bag, I cooked at a lower heat so as not to reduce to a paste, and served in dessert glasses – nothing to do with being lazy, oh no!
250g/9oz freshly cooked chestnuts
75g/3oz castor sugar
1 vanilla pod, split open and seeds loosened
125g/4.5oz crème fraîche
A little good quality bitter chocolate
- Heat the milk in a large sauce-pan then add the sugar, split vanilla pods and the shelled and skinned chestnuts, and simmer gently for 40 minutes until the chestnuts become quite soft; by this time the liquid will have reduced.
- Put the cooked chestnuts through a coarse mouli. Add enough of the remaining reduced milk to bring the mixture together to form a thick dough. Test for sweetness.
- Using a small plain nozzle, pipe the chestnut dough out into a mountain shape on a flat serving platter; this will take some time.
- Serve with crème fraîche with some bitter chocolate grated on top.
Simple, sweet and sublime, is how I would sum these scrumptious ‘biscuits’. Thanks to @farctum for introducing me to the recipe. Unfortunately I have not baked a cake or biscuit for almost 30 years, so these little beauties did turn out to be rather big boys. However, I loved them and so did the guys – I did trim them down just a little though… The biscotti that is, the men don’t need trimming, they yearn for all the hair they can get!
Oooh, light, thin, crunchy biscotti with a chewy centre; an ideal companion to a hot, strong coffee. The only downside of this exceptionally simple and quick recipe, is that the sugar does not melt and is still slightly crunchy. I will try again in the future at a higher temperature. The original recipe can be found here and dates back to 1790!
Makes approx 10 Large or 20 Small
10 Large cooked chestnuts or 20 small
3 Egg Whites
- Pre-heat oven to Gas mark 3 (325°f)
- Blitz the chestnuts in a food processor or grind using a pestle and mortar. Add a tablespoon of egg white to make the mix into a rough paste.
- Add the sugar to the chestnut paste and mix in thoroughly
- Whisk the egg whites until they reach the ‘soft peak’ stage and then gently fold them in, a spoonful at a time, with the chestnut mix.
- Pour the mixture in approximate 3 x 1 inch lengths onto a baking tray and bake for 15 to 20 minutes until golden with crusted edges.
- Leave to cool on the tray and then serve.
Oh! What a long post… With the rest of my chestnuts – yes I really had a mountain of the things after an over-enthusiastic forage – I made sweet chestnut puree and a plain chestnut puree for future recipes; store these in the fridge in an air tight container. Alternatively, if you want to keep whole chestnuts, visit your local butcher and ask them to vaccum pack a few for you, you can then store them in the freezer – et voila, chestnuts to order.
Get down to Norsey Woods, people – there may even be some chesties left to be had.