Chestnuts have to be peeled and cooked before using. They can be roasted in their shells, boiled, braised, puréed or even candied (marrons glacés). Their sweet nutty flavour combines well with game, poultry, starchy vegetables, mushrooms, chocolate, whipped cream or vanilla.
To prepare fresh chestnuts for cooking, cut X on flat side of each chestnut. In saucepan of boiling water, cook chestnuts, 4 at a time, until points of cut curl, about 2 minutes; drain. With knife, pull off skins. In saucepan, cover peeled chestnuts with water and bring to boil; cook over medium heat until tender, about 5 minutes.
At the store Fresh chestnuts have the best flavour and texture, but if you don’t have a kitchen brigade at your disposal, peeling them is time consuming. Look for these alternative products at grocery and specialty stores:
Dried chestnuts are the least expensive and most like fresh chestnuts in flavour and texture. Look for them in Italian and Chinese grocery stores all year round. To prepare: In bowl, soak 2 cups (500 mL) chestnuts in 6 cups (1.5 L) boiling water for at least 2 hours or overnight; drain. In saucepan, cover chestnuts with water and bring to boil; cook over medium heat until tender, about 15 minutes. Drain and they are ready to use in a recipe.
Vacuum-packed chestnuts are softer than fresh but are ready to use interchangeably with prepared fresh or dried ones. Though more expensive than ready-to-use-canned, their taste is superior. If you are chopping them for a recipe, look for less expensive chestnut pieces.
Canned chestnuts are cooked and ready to use interchangeably with prepared fresh, dried and vacuum-packed ones. Rinse and drain well before using. Some are packed in syrup for use in desserts, so check the labels.
Image courtesy of Williams-Sonoma.
Excerpted from Canadian Living The Complete Christmas Book by the editors of Canadian Living Magazine Copyright © 2007 by the editors of Canadian Living Magazine. Excerpted by permission of Transcontinental Books, a division of Random House of Canada Limited. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.