In This Article
Of all the iconic scenes painted by Christmas songs, “Chestnuts roasting on an open fire,” might just be the coziest and most captivating. It sticks in your mind for two reasons: the temptation of an open flame to fall asleep next to after a large meal, and the seductive, cozy scent of the roasting chestnuts. I was in my mid-twenties by the time I tried my first chestnut, but that didn’t stop me from imagining what sweet, nutty possibilities this song sang of.
Chestnuts are most popular around the holiday season and are easy to make at home if you know the right technique. Once roasted, chestnuts offer an intriguing, festive flavor that’s subtly sweet and delicately nutty, with a texture not dissimilar from a baked potato. You can eat them warm and freshly roasted, dipped in butter with a bit of salt, or even use them in other recipes. Here’s what you need to know about roasting and eating chestnuts at home.
Do You Need to Soak Chestnuts?
The jury is still out on this one, but from what I’ve found, soaking doesn’t make a huge difference in the final product and seems to me to be an extra step that really isn’t work the extra effort. The idea behind soaking them is to add extra moisture so the flesh will steam as it roasts, but the final texture of the chestnuts doesn’t seem to benefit from this in my experience.
If you want to run a little kitchen experiment and see for yourself, try soaking the chestnuts in hot water for about 5 minutes after you score and before you roast, just make sure to drain them well and pat completely dry.
The Best Way to Roast Chestnuts
While roasting chestnuts at home might not give you the same feeling as watching them roast over an open flame or bed of hot coals, it will, at the very least, leave your house smelling festive.
- First, preheat your oven to 425°F. Pull out the biggest baking sheet you own, and set it beside a cutting board.
- If the chestnuts look dirty or were foraged, wash them and dry them completely.
- Take a chestnut and place the flat side down onto the cutting board. Take a small sharp paring knife and slice an X onto the rounded surface of the nut; deep enough to score through the skin, but not too deep so as to slice the flesh itself. Transfer the scored chestnut to the baking sheet with the scored-side up, and repeat with all the remaining chestnuts.
- Bake for at least 15 – 20 minutes, or until the skins have started to pull back and reveal the chestnut flesh. The time is dependent on how large your chestnuts are, so start off with 15 minutes and keep checking every 5 minutes thereafter until the skins of all the chestnuts have really started to peel back where you scored them.
- While the chestnuts are still warm, carefully (a paring knife may help here) peel away the skin from the chestnuts and remove the flesh. Repeat with all the nuts. It’s easier to remove the nutmeats from the skins while they're still warm, otherwise the skin is less pliable and much harder to peel away.
You could also serve the chestnuts warm after a quick rest out of the oven, so your friends and family can do the hard work themselves.
How to Eat (or Cook With) Roasted Chestnuts
While the texture and subtle flavors of roasted chestnuts are simple and enjoyable as is, they are (as most things in life are, let’s be honest) elevated with some melted butter and salt. Served as outlined above as simple nutmeats with melted butter and salt for dipping and sprinkling, they make a wonderfully festive snack for the season.
To give them even more flavor and festive adornments, you can also toss the chestnuts (pre-roast) into an aluminum foil packet with butter, rosemary, thyme, grated nutmeg, salt and pepper.
If you’re curious as to how to use chestnuts for more than just delicious snacks this holiday season, don’t worry, you have plenty of options. From silky chestnut soups (even paired with kabocha squash) to hearty braises studded with chestnuts, chestnut cakes to loaded chestnut stuffing (aka dressing), the options swing from sweet and savory and everywhere in between. You can even chop them up and toss them into creamy risottos, pastas, or salads, but my favorite way to enjoy the subtleties of the jolly chestnut? Warm, right out the oven, with a little bowl of melted butter by my side.