Sunday, November 23, 2008

Chestnuts + Roasting + Open Fire

Something about warm, toasty chestnuts in your hands that just makes you think of the winter holidays, doesn’t it? Even for a Hawaii boy like me, I loved the roasted chestnuts my mom would buy at Shirokiya, a Japanese department store in Honolulu.

Around the Bay Area farmers’ markets and even at supermarkets, chestnuts (still in their shells) are widely available — some coming as far away as Italy. What’s funny is that most of these chestnuts have been harvested a few weeks ago, but they’re only popping up in markets now because people only think of buying them around Thanksgiving. (Kind of like Dungeness crab season.)

I spotted these chestnuts for sale at my neighborhood Temescal Farmers’ Market last Sunday. The guy grows his chestnuts in the Davis area, and he had this interesting display of a chestnut still in its prickly exterior. Doesn’t it look like a porcupine? A little kid wanted to pet it because it kind of looked like a chia pet.

Since these were locally grown chestnuts (instead of the imported ones from Italy), I thought I’d give it a try. Plus, a really big bag (looked like 1.5 to 2 pounds) only set me back $4 for the smaller nuts (he had gigantic chestnuts for sale at a higher price).

The guy (I really should have asked for his name) says he boils the chestnuts, but I didn’t like that idea. So I baked them in the oven (since I didn’t have an open fire) on a roasting tray with a little bit of water to keep it moist. The thing everyone warns about the chestnut is that it explodes when heated. So you have to pierce and X on the side of the shell. (Weird. I never noticed this in the chestnuts at Shirokiya.)

The small chestnuts take only about 15 to 20 minutes to bake. You can tell they’re ready when the X mark looks like an exploding entry point. The freshly baked chestnut was so warm and the meat so sweet, it was great. My only complaint about fresh chestnuts is the furry skin. That part can be pretty hard to peel off. (I notice that when I roast at a higher heat and cook them longer, the skin gets crispy and peels off easy but you end up with drier meat.) Plus, individually piercing every nut with an X can get tiring. Still, it really feels like winter. Now all I need is some egg nog and I’m good for the next month.


Mrs. L said...

I too noticed the "furry beast" at the local market yesterday but passed on the fresh chestnuts. Not sure I wanted to go to all the trouble for little payoff. Is the nut meat that good?

Chef Ben said...

Mrs. L, I equate it to crab. It's tough to get through all the shell, but so worth it when you eat the crab meat. Same with chestnut, it's annoying dealing with the furry skin, but the sweetness of fresh chestnuts is sooo good compared to when I buy them in the vacuum packs or jars.

Mrs. L said... may have just convinced me to pick some up at the next Farmers Market!

foodhoe said...

oh how cute! I've never seen the furry looking ones. Can you roast those too? I love chestnuts, my grandma used to boil them for us when we were little. Must track some of those down.

Anonymous said...

A friend of mine went to Italy and found some kind of kitchen gadget which punches an "x" in your chestnuts. It kind of looked like a cherry pitter or garlic press.