Chestnuts Roasting in My Kitchen

We’re all familiar with the popular Christmas song lyric, which has made roasting chestnuts an iconic activity of the season, but how many of us actually take the time to roast chestnuts?

In New York City, street cart vendors, who normally stick to the traditional hot dog and pretzel fare, venture out this time of year and almost every one has a tinfoil pot of chestnuts ‘roasting’ over their artificial roasting light. I’ve never actually tried chestnuts from a street cart, but something tells me to avoid it …

For the past couple of years, I’ve made it sort of a personal tradition of my own to roast chestnuts in December. I love the smell of them roasting, the sweet and meaty flavor, even the act of cracking the nut from the shell – after the first Christmas, I was hooked.

They’re also really easy to make and almost every grocery store carries them this time of year, since the winter months is when they begin falling from their trees. The trick to roasting delicious chestnuts, is to cut an ‘X’ in them before popping into the oven. This allows any steam to escape and prevents them from exploding – an obvious benefit. I invite you to try roasting your own chestnuts in the next week leading up to Christmas. It’s an easy and delicious way to bring some ‘merry’ into your home. 🙂

How to Roast Chestnuts:

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees F. Rinse off the chestnuts and set them on a cutting board. With a small, sharp knife, cut an X on the flat side of each chestnut. The bigger an X you make, the easier the nuts will be to peel. Try not to cut too deep into the chestnut though. Wide and shallow is what you’re going for here. Also, cutting on a dish towel would be advisable, as they tend to slip!

Put chestnuts on a cookie sheet with the X facing up. Roast for 20-30 minutes. The chestnuts will turn blackish brown and the X in each will curl up. This is the trickiest part, because you want them to be tender, but overcooking can make them hard and inedible.

Once they’re done roasting, it’s time to peel. Now this part is not tricky, it’s just plain hard! You want to peel while they’re still warm, but not steaming hot and prepare for your fingers to feel a little sore. Don’t feel discouraged if you find that a few are too hard to eat, are darker in color, or even have inner mold. It’s bound to happen in every batch.

At this point, I eat them as is, but some like to season their chestnuts. Regardless, they’re going to be delicious.

Note: Although I haven’t tried the chestnuts that street vendors sell, I’ve heard they’re actually quite tender. It’s just the question of sanitation that keeps me away. Apparently their trick is to boil the chestnuts in unsalted water for 15-20 minutes after cutting an X in each. This is supposed to keep them plump and juicy. You can end the cooking by popping in the oven for a few minutes to give them that toasted taste if you so choose.

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