Chestnuts – Winter
Chestnuts roasting on an open fire. Isn’t it an alluring imagery? Roaring fire, Hermes wool blankets, a good glass of wine and warm, sweet soft chestnuts. Even winter has its blessings.
Chestnuts are truly seasonal and don’t really appear in the markets here until late September or even October. Thankfully, they stay until the end of January so we have a few months to enjoy this delicacy. If you are lucky and live in or frequent the right places, you can buy them from street vendors near public squares and markets. The vendors have their cart with a roaster built into it and they stand there, roasting fragrant chestnuts, the sweet smoke permeates the air around them as they pile a few of these brown treasures into a paper cone for your immediate consumption. I try not to miss this experience at the Granville Island market in Vancouver, B.C. There is something about this ritual that nurtures my spirit.
The simplest and more straightforward preparation of chestnuts is roasting them. It takes a little work, as you need to handle each piece individually but since it’s not something you do everyday I think it’s worth the trouble. Why not make it a ritual, set the scene for it and create a memory for those who share you life?
To roast chestnuts you need to cut an X in each one with a sharp knife on the flat side of the chestnuts. If you don’t have the facility to roast them on an open fire don’t despair, they can be roasted nicely in a hot oven or even over the flame of a gas stove.
To roast them in the oven, preheat the oven to 450℉. No, it’s not too high. The chestnuts need this heat to open up, let the shell crack and curl open to let the steam escape and expose the luxurious, tender, sweet flesh. How long to cook them? You need to experiment a bit. Check a few after 15-20 minutes or so. The hard peel should have softened somewhat and should readily peel back at the X. The chestnuts meat inside should be warm and plump and moist. Inevitably there will be some casualties and a few of your chestnuts will appear dry, shriveled and inedible. Such is life. Set those aside and continue with the good ones, treasuring them even more for having survived the ordeal in the fire.
Some cooks swear by boiling the chestnuts in a large amount of water before roasting them, and I heard through the grapevines that street vendor do that to ensure uniformity and reasonable cash flow. There you go. Someone must always try and spoil the illusion.