annual crusade for chestnuts . . .
Roasting chestnuts! Every November the crusade for chestnuts for the Thanksgiving turkey dressing begins. Through the years, these are the most important lessons I have learned the hard way and tweaked this year:
1) the chestnuts need to be fresh (this is not so obvious) because they dry out quickly at room temperature and also start to decay inside. That’s why it’s good to start 2-3 weeks before Thanksgiving week to work on these critters.
2) with a very sharp, strong paring knife, hold the chestnut with your hand cushioned with a folded dishtowel for protection; insert it at the top of the crown and insert the sharp point, draw the blade down to the bottom tip. Repeat on the other side all the way down. You now have slits cut into the flesh from crown to bottom. If your cuts are too shallow, you won’t break through the skin which is what you want to do in order to loosen the meat from the brown fuzzy skin inside the shell.
3) put prepared chestnuts in cold tap water and bring to a rolling boil on the stove
4) when it’s at a rolling boil, turn the heat off and let them sit in the hot water off the heat for 20 minutes
5) preheat the oven to 425 degrees
6) ladle out the boiled/soaked chestnuts onto a cookie sheet (some skins will already have split and you can see the chestnut meats peeping through.
7) bake/roast for about a half hour – the chestnut should be cooked through and creamy when you bite into it. If it’s hard, it’s not cooked enough – OR, you’ve overcooked it!
8) remove the roasted chestnuts from the oven and set on a heatpad; cover with a dish towel for 15 minutes to allow the chestnuts to steam a little longer while they cool.
9) even with this process, there will be about 10-20% spoilage in the chestnuts.
If you wait closer to Thanksgiving, the fresh chestnuts will have been sitting in the grocery store for 2-3 weeks before you cook them, dry out and increase the spoilage rate significantly. (I’ve found that it’s handy to keep the grocery sales slip in case the whole batch turns out to be inedible.)
So, start trying them out early (1st week in Nov.); slit, boil and roast them so that the skins can separate from the meats and there is minimal spoilage. FREEZE the harvested chestnut meats until you actually make the stuffing on Thanksgiving day.
BTW, I sometimes scrape out the chestnuts from skins when they’re stuck but not spoiled so that what’s remaining are powdery bits of roasted chestnuts. I have a batch of these in the freezer already. One year, I discovered that this stuff is like “chestnut golddust” because although you can’t see it, it adds flavor that the whole pieces of chestnuts can’t provide on their own. So, that’s a silver lining with chestnuts that don’t come out of the shell easily!
Now you know everything I have learned about this pesky chore (that’s the only word to describe it) but honestly, on Thanksgiving day, when you hear the quiet moans of delight coming from an otherwise silent table, you’ll know it was worth it. In fact, I feel like It’s worth it every time!