Roasted Chestnuts

Who doesn’t remember on icy cold days in the city stopping for a small paper sack of chestnuts roasted by a vendor on a charcoal brazier? The roasted chestnuts would be just a little too hot to handle and perfumed with the smoky fire.

At home we prepare roasted chestnuts in the oven. We did have one of those steel chestnut pans with holes in the bottom. It went unused; somehow making a glowing charcoal fire just for a handful of chestnuts always seemed like too much of a to-do.

Howsoever you will be wanting to roast your chestnuts, here are a few tips.

After some research and personal experience, we recommend boiling the chestnuts for 15 to 20 minutes first. Then to roasting; in the oven, over coals in the fireplace, or the trusty Weber or other grill.

You have to score the chestnuts first, but that is a topic by itself. Later.
Fresh chestnuts have a high water content. The operative here is “fresh”. If you have it on faithor from the tree out in the yardthat the chestnuts are fresh then they can go right to the embers. But store bought you don’t really know how long they have been off the tree, so we recommend the preliminary boiling. We have been told that the vendors on the city streets boil their chestnuts first, then finish over the fire. Sounds right.
In the fireplace you will need a box like contraption like the one below or a chestnut pan as pictured. The pans come with short and long handles. Protective gloves with direct heat, please. In the oven, a baking sheet or any suitable pan will do the trick.
Now for the scoring of that infernal nut. First rule, be very careful.

The deal is that the chestnut as it heats releases steam, and you must score the shell to prevent them from exploding.

We have always been full of fear and trepidation around scoring chestnuts.  Some suggest scoring an X on the round side, some say one long score line across the top width. You choose. The problematic thing is making the score(s) without also scoring a point with the knife on a finger. Any knife, small or large is just too precarious on that smooth hard slippery shell.

The additional problematic in scoring the shell is that you don’t want to score the flesh of the chestnut. This will probably happen to some extent, but the goal is to only score the shell and leave the flesh intact.

Our next attempt at scoring chestnuts will be with a box cutter set to the minimal blade exposure. We are tempted to buy a special chestnut knife, but it is a one use kind of tool and we eschew too many speciality tools in our kitchen. And, how many times a year do we really prepare roasted chestnuts to justify a single purpose knife? But, if the box cutter doesn’t do it, we will get the knife. We justify the purchase on grounds that it is that much easier and safer than any conventional knife; chestnuts once or twice a year, notwithstanding.

For those acolytes of one Martha Stewart there is the de rigueur chestnut cross cut tool. But, come on!
If you are preparing chestnuts as ingredients in other recipes (e.g., stuffing, or chestnuts and Brussels sprouts) cut the dern things right in half and boil. A good pair of pinchy pliers will take the shells and skins right off, likity split.

And, speaking of chestnuts for other recipes, we recommend one of our top tier desserts, Coupe aux marrons. Ah, after a delicious lunch of Tête de veau à la vinaigrette brought to table folded under a pure white napkin at Café Des Sport in New York City . . . always on the dessert menu, Coupe aux marrons. Vanilla ice cream topped with candied chestnuts in syrup. This kitty would lick up every bit. Meow!