December: Cooking Chestnuts Worth the Work

Filed under: Mealtime, Activities: Family Time


A dear neighbor-friend who hails from England recently invited me over for a visit right after Thanksgiving. As we sat by her fireplace, the subject of chestnuts came up, and she, being the more experienced cook, explained to me just how good these quirky nuts are, and how she routinely throws them into holiday stuffings.

Chestnuts have long been on my culinary bucket list -- I'd always associated them with Nat King Cole's famous Christmas song, but I'd never actually tried one. And I certainly didn't know the ins and outs of preparing them. My friend Jo detailed the work involved in venting and cooking these nuts, then peeling the shells and inner membrane. But woe to those who don't score the nuts ahead of time: "They'll explode in the oven," she warned, "and it's a mess."

cooking chestnuts

You can't eat uncooked chestnuts. Credit: Deborah Kloha

This whole notion of a projectile tree nut was rather tantalizing. I'd exploded unpierced baking potatoes before -- unintentionally, of course. But never a nut in a hard shell. And as I described the potential for this chaos to my 17-year-old daughter, Anna, we were in complete solidarity: We had to try making some chestnuts -- legitimately, in a prepared dish, and then we'd set a few aside, allowing two or three to go nuclear in our oven.

To come up with a chestnut dish that we could serve for our evening dinner, we once again turned to KitchenDaily and selected a recipe (see below) that pairs boiled chestnuts with fresh Brussels sprouts in a light broth-and-butter sauce.

As for the batch of chestnuts we roasted in our oven, the pierced ones were quite tasty -- almost like a sweet, soft potato. And as for the unpierced three -- well, they exploded so completely that we had little wreckage to retrieve. Mostly shell crumbles that incinerated and started to produce smoke. Unfortunately, we couldn't take a worthwhile picture to show the results, but we ended our monthly cooking session with a heaping helping of fun -- the kind that comes from adding a little pyrotechnic excitement into the mix.

cooking chestnuts

Chestnuts + Brussels sprouts = delicious dish. Credit: Deborah Kloha

Brussels Sprouts & Chestnuts

Ingredients:
24 fresh chestnuts (3/4 pound)
1 stalk celery
1 lemon
1 1/2 pounds Brussels sprouts, trimmed
1/4 cup reduced-sodium chicken broth
1 T butter
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Directions:
Using a sharp knife, score a cross on the flat side of each chestnut. Dip chestnuts, 4 or 5 at a time, into a saucepan of boiling water (Cook's note: for about 3 minutes). Using a slotted spoon, remove chestnuts and peel away shells and inner brown skins. Place the peeled chestnuts in a large saucepan and add enough boiling water to cover. Add celery stalk and simmer, covered, for 30-45 minutes, or until tender.

Drain, discarding celery, and refresh with cold water. Set aside. With a vegetable peeler, remove the zest from half the lemon. Cut the zest into julienned strips and place in a small saucepan; cover with cold water and bring to a boil. Drain and set aside.

With a paring knife, cut a small cross, 1/8-inch deep, in the stem end of each Brussels sprout. Bring a large saucepan of salted water to a boil. Add the Brussels sprouts and cook, uncovered, until tender, 6-8 minutes. Drain and refresh with cold water. (The vegetables can be prepared ahead and stored, covered, in the refrigerator for up to 8 hours.)

In a large skillet, heat broth and butter. Add the chestnuts and Brussels sprouts and toss over medium heat until heated through. Season with salt and pepper and garnish with the julienned lemon zest.

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Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.