All about chestnuts

Chestnuts are on a comeback! Learn how to choose a good chestnut, plus how to roast chestnuts and store them properly.

All about chestnuts
What are chestnuts?
Chestnuts are the large edible seeds of the sweet chestnut tree. They are in a prickly case called a burr, which splits open when ripe in the autumn. They have been cultivated in the Mediterranean for at least 3,000 years, in China for more than 2,000 years and in Japan since the 11th century. Trees producing sweet edible chestnuts were common in North America until the early 20th century, when a blight killed almost all of them. Today, recovery programs are responsible for some small harvests, but most of the chestnuts sold in Canada come from Europe or Korea.

How to choose a good chestnut

From October to December, look for fresh chestnuts that are hard, shiny, unblemished, heavy for their size and do not rattle when shaken. Because they are highly perishable, refrigerate chestnuts in perforated plastic bags for up to one week. For longer storage, freeze in airtight container for up to one month. Discard any with mould inside.

Cooking with chestnuts

Chestnuts have to be peeled and cooked before using. They can be roasted in their shells, candied (marrons glacé), boiled, braised or puréed. Their sweet nutty flavour combines well with game, poultry, starchy vegetables, mushrooms, chocolate, whipped cream or vanilla.

How to prepare fresh chestnuts for cooking
Cut an X on the flat side of each chestnut. In saucepan of boiling water, cook chestnuts, 4 at a time, until points of cut curl, about 2 minutes; drain. With knife, pull off skins. In saucepan, cover peeled chestnuts with water and bring to boil; cook over medium heat until tender, about 5 minutes.

Roasting fresh chestnuts: Cut an X on the flat side of each chestnut. Place in heavy skillet with dash of oil or in chestnut pan (long-handled skillet with perforated bottom); cook over open fire, or in pan over medium heat or in 425°F (220°C) oven until shells curl back, nut is soft and inner brown skin can be easily removed, up to 15 minutes. Traditionally, these fully-cooked chestnuts are eaten from the shells while still hot.

Page 1 of 3 -- Decide whether fresh, dried, canned or pureed chestnuts are best for your cooking needs with chestnut shopping tips on page 2

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