You may not remember, but last year I had an incident with roasting chestnuts. Then I received a Chestnutter, which appeared to be a miracle worker with the chestnut process. Later, I discovered that the nice people outside of Mitsuwa on holiday weekends are sheer genuises with their little roasted chestnut stand. Every little chestnut I popped open was easy to peel and didn’t hurt my fingers. I believe I made a mental note to just go find them when I was craving chestnuts.
Obviously, I have a chestnut problem. When I see the little brown nuggets in a cute little container, I’m compelled to buy them. I keep forgetting that it’s kind of a pain to make them at home and it’s never as easy as it should be. This year, though, I think I figured out a successful method. It’s still kind of a pain to peel the chestnuts, and my fingers still get sore, but at least that funny papery skin comes off and the chestnut stays moist.
Take your chestnuts and score them – either with a Chestnutter or a regular knife (if you like living on the edge). Heat your oven to 400ºF. Place the chestnuts in a pan large enough that the chestnuts are in a single layer. Add Just Enough Water to barely cover the bottom. This is very important. You want enough water to keep the chestnuts steamy and moist, but not so much that there is water left on the bottom after the chestnuts are cooked. If there’s water on the bottom, the chestnut shell doesn’t crisp up and it makes it one million times harder to properly shell the suckers. You want dry chestnut shells, but moist chestnut meat. I think 25-30 minutes of roasting shoudl do the trick.
Now, once you have a pan of hot chestnuts, put on an oven mitt and pick up a chestnut. Give it a slight squeeze (but not too much or you’ll squish the chestnut, rendering it useless) to crack the shell where the scored part has popped up. The oven mitt is to protect your hand from the burning hotness of the chestnut. Working quickly, use your other hand to start peeling away the shell. You may want a cold beer nearby, to cool off your scorched fingertips occasionally. Hopefully, once you peel away the shell, the papery skin will either peel off or flake off, depending on how dry it is.
I used to peel a chestnut and eat it; peel and eat; rinse and repeat. But I’ve found that warm chestnuts are easier to deal with than cold ones. So now I go through all of them and place the acceptable chestnuts in a separate bowl to eat later. They are delicious. If I do get a stubborn chestnut that won’t let go of the bitter, fuzzy paper-skin, it goes to a waiting dog. I’m sure someone will tell me that chestnuts are poisonous to dogs, but they certainly haven’t died yet. And they only get, maybe, one of my chestnuts.
So, that’s how you can roast chestnuts at home. But I’m totally serious when I say it’s a lot easier to just hunt down a chestnut vendor. Or buy the peeled ones at Trader Joe’s.