Roasted chestnuts are associated with winter festivities, yet very few us roast them ourselves anymore. It seems much easier to buy some as street-food, while for cooking & baking we tend to use convenient, ready-cooked tinned or vacuumed chestnuts.
It’s actually not at all difficult to roast chestnuts, if you follow a few basic rules:
The correct chestnuts
- First of all, chestnuts mustn’t be confused with horse chestnuts (conkers)! Those are not edible – they’re actually poisonous and even lethal if eaten raw. The way to distinguish them is that chestnuts are smaller, flatter and softer than their horse chestnuts cousins – also notice that only conkers have a white patch on them and they’ve a much glossier surface.
- Secondly, use good quality chestnuts. You can go to parks and collect some, or buy them at your local market or grocery store. Either way look for fairly shiny, dark brown (not dull) colour; smooth and hard surface; their weight should be heavy for their size. Try to select fairly similar sizes so they’ll roast evenly!
- If you want to buy the best quality chestnuts, then try to get the Italian Mugello Marrone or French Marron (these tend to be rather expensive though!).
- Before cooking, keep your chestnuts in a refrigerator (in the vegetable box) or in a cool space (such as larder or cellar). It’s also OK to freeze them!
- Carefully select the chestnuts, rinse them under running water – then soak them in a bowl of water for minimum of 1 hour up to a maximum of overnight.
- Preheat the oven to 220°C.
- Rinse and pat-dry the chestnuts then, using a small, sharp knife, cut a shallow cross on the rounded side of each being careful not to cut right into the flesh. The inside of some might appear mouldy, rotten or black – so do be sure to throw these away.
- Place the chestnuts evenly on a baking tray, with the cut side facing up. If you hadn’t soaked them for a long time, sprinkle them lightly with some water.
- Put the tray into the oven and bake for about 20 to 25 minutes. After ten minutes of baking give them a shake to make sure they don’t stick to the tray.
- They are cooked when the shells flip back at the cross-cut you made and the colour of the chestnut flesh becomes a light brown. The smaller chestnuts might be ready after just 15 minutes of baking, so do check them all a couple of times.
- When the chestnuts are ready, transfer them into a bowl, lined with a clean tea towel, and wrap them up. Let them rest for about 10 minutes because this allows the shell to peel off much more easily.
- When the chestnuts have cooled down a bit, but are still warm, remove their shells.
- If you let them cool completely, the shelling is more difficult.
- The freshly roasted chestnuts make delicious snacks – sprinkle them with some cinnamon or drizzle with some maple syrup.
- The shelled chestnuts can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to a week. Alternatively you can freeze them.