One of my fondest memories as a child was when my grandparents would come visit and we would go foraging for fresh chestnuts. The ground would be scattered with big leaves all all different autumnal shades and my brother and I would bound through the big piles looking for the spiky chestnut coverings. We’d then squeeze the nuts out using our little black gumboots and our parents would come along and scoop them up into a basket to take home and roast on the fire. We’d sit around with the chestnuts roasting on top, after which my grandfather would scoop them up into tea towel why we’d impatiently chant “are they ready yet!? are they ready yet!?” Though the ritual for collecting the chestnuts has sadly changed (I bought these little babies from the corner store) the anticipation to eat them has not, and I nearly burnt my finger trying to eat one a little too soon after they’d left the hot pan.
After being ridiculously excited to find fresh chestnuts in the local store, I faced the slight dilemma of how to cook them without a fire. As we do these days, I turned straight to Google for the answer, but found that the go-to solution for cooking chestnuts without a stove was in the oven. I was convinced I could come up with something that was more akin to how I remember cooking them as a child, and enlisted the help of my trusty cast iron skillet to help out – turns out he was more than up to the task and in less than half and hour I was sitting down, cradling a warm pouch of freshly roasted chestnuts waiting to be enjoyed.
Step 1: Cut the chestnuts
Technically, step 1 is to jump the fence into the local high school “where the big kids go” and jump gleefully through the mountains of fiery amber and gold leaves hunting for the alien-looking chestnut casings…. but at a pinch, lets just presume you’ve already acquired your chestnuts and are now set to get busy roasting.
The first thing you’ll need to do is to cut a cross in each one with a serrated knife (or other sharp knife). This has two purposes – it allows air to circulate while cooking, and it also gives as visual indicator of when the chestnuts are cooked as I’ll explain further along the cooking process.
Take each chestnut individually and use the knife to cross the domed edge, cutting through the thicker outer shell and rough skin, but not cutting the actual nut itself. Be careful when doing this – this is a job for steady hands, and definitely not a task you can delegate to the kids!
Step 2: Roast the chestnuts
To roast the chestnuts, heat your cast iron skillet oven medium heat. Add the marked chestnuts in a single layer and cook around 15 minutes. Make sure to keep an eye on them and give the pan a shake every few minutes to turn the chestnuts. They’ll be ready when the outsides are charred and the crosses you cut have started to peel back exposing the inner layer and chestnut itself.
Step 3: Steam the chestnuts
Once the chestnuts are cooked, remove them from the heat and carefully wrap them in a tea towel (or any cloth will do here really) to allow them to steam for around 10 minutes. Don’t forgo this step – steaming the chestnuts helps to soften the inner layer making them easier to peel! It also allows them to cool slightly so that you don’t burn your fingers when trying to get the outer layers off.
Step 4: Peel and enjoy!
After 10 minutes or so, unwrap your bundle and carefully (they will still be quite hot) peel the two outer layers off to reveal the little brain-like chestnuts inside. Make sure any chestnuts you aren’t peeling stay loosely wrapped in the tea towel until you get to them. Chestnuts are best served warm, I usually like to cook a small amount and then eat them as I peel them. They are also great though added to pureed soups, and I haven’t tried this yet but I imagine they would pair beautifully with all those lovely mushrooms popping up all over the place at the moment, fried lightly in a little butter with a crispy egg on top.
- 250g fresh chestnuts
- Use a sharp serrated knife to cut a cross in the top of each chestnut.
- Heat a cast iron skillet over medium heat and add chestnuts in a single layer.
- Cook 15 minutes, giving the pan a good shake every few minutes to turn the chestnuts.
- Once cooked, wrap in a tea towel and steam around 10 minutes.
- Unwrap, and gently un-peel the two outer layers of the chestnuts.