Kitchen Exhibitionist
The Culinary Quests of a Food Enthusiast Stuck in the Sticks
Autumnal Aromas
The Best Way to Roast Chestnuts at Home

One of the finest olfactory experiences one can enjoy occurs in the streets of Manhattan in the fall. Ascend the subway stairs from the stuffy station, up and out to the fresh, crisp November air, and collide with the delicious aroma of freshly roasted chestnuts from the nearby street vendors. Inhale deeply and enjoy!

The first time I encountered the scent of roasting chestnuts I was reminded of popcorn, but with deeper, richer overtones. I was immediately wary though, because I had been disappointed by popcorn’s seductive aroma which didn’t deliver what it promised. Popcorn, you palate teaser! You smell wonderful but you are nothing more than flavorless Styrofoam with tiny random hard bits that get stuck in my teeth. If it wasn’t for the butter and salt, I don’t think anyone would eat popcorn.

So you can understand why I approached my first roasted chestnut with some degree of trepidation. Would I be disappointed again? I held a warm chestnut in my hand and admired its beautiful brown shell with dark striped grain, like fine wood furniture. Its pale golden flesh with its gentle convolutions resembled a tiny brain. I took a bite. It was dense, nutty, sweet, and almost potato-like. Most importantly, it tasted like its aroma. It delivered!

If you won’t be in Manhattan in November you can still enjoy chestnuts in your own home. Most markets and grocery produce departments carry them this time of year. I’ve tried many ways of roasting chestnuts at home, and this method from Marcella
Hazen is the best. With this recipe you too can experience the wonderful aroma of Manhattan street food in your own kitchen.

Home-roasted Chestnuts

Preheat the oven to 475 degrees F.Wash the chestnuts in cold water and then soak them in warm water for 20 minutes. The soaking softens the shells and makes them easier to slash.

After soaking, use a small sharp paring knife to make a horizontal cut that partly rings the middle of each nut, starting at one edge of the flat side, circling the bulging belly of the chestnut, and stopping just past the other edge of the flat side. Do not cut into the flat side itself, and keep the slash shallow so that you do not cut into the chestnut meat.

Spread the cut chestnuts on a baking sheet and place on the middle rack in the hot oven. Toss the nuts from time to time, but not so often as to lose heat from the oven.

When the chestnuts are tender, about 30 to 45 minutes depending on their freshness, pour them off the baking sheet onto a clean cloth towel. Wrap them tightly in the towel and allow to rest for 10 minutes. They will steam a bit inside the towel, causing the skins to loosen much more easily.

Serve immediately.

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2 Comments:
Blogger neil barraclough said...
Please don't follow these instructions. I've just ruined 2 dozen nuts by following this & I only roasted them for 30 minutes. They were charred beyond edible. I hate to think what they'd be like after 45 minutes.

Blogger Claire said...
Do you mean 375 degrees? 475 for 45 minutes sounds like it would burn the chestnuts to a cinder.

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