HOW TO BUY THE BEST CHESTNUTS
Don't have any street vendors in your neighborhood? No problem. You can find chestnuts in most supermarkets and farmers' markets from October through December. You can also have them sent directly to your home from www.ChestnutsUSA.com.
Look for chestnuts with a rich brown outer shell; the meat inside should be a cream color. To test freshness, shake them - if they're getting old, the nut inside will be hard and will rattle and the color will be very dark.
Discard nuts that are coated with black mold or pitted with black spots when you peel them. Don't purchase nuts that are cracked and obviously dried out.
Store fresh chestnuts in the refrigerator, preferably just above 32°F. They'll keep well for up to eight weeks this way. Since chestnuts are about 50% water, their meat will quickly dry up if left at room temperature. They also have a tendency to mold easily, so it's best to store them in a mesh bag, which will allow air to circulate. Both raw and cooked chestnuts can be frozen.
Easy Ways to Use Chestnuts
The simplest of all uses probably has never occurred to you: Eat them raw. Just peel off the outer shell plus the bitter inner skin (pellicle) and dig in. They have a subtly sweet flavor and crunch reminiscent of other nuts. If you have trouble peeling them, cut off the tips and boil for 1 minute: peel while still warm.
The best ways to cook chestnuts are roasting and boiling. Before doing either, cut a shallow X in the flat side of each shell so the chestnuts won't explode as they cook. (Or cut about ¼ inch off the tip end of each)
- Roast: Place in a single layer in a baking dish. Bake at 350°F for 15 to 20 minutes, or until the shells start to split and the nuts smell fragrant.
- Boil: Place in a saucepan; cover with water, and boil 20 minutes or until tender (test one before draining the rest).
Then, try some of these delicious uses for your cooked chestnuts:
- Top a baked or microwaved butternut squash with chopped chestnuts and a little brown sugar.
- Chop a few chestnuts and add to chicken noodle soup.
- Combine whole chestnuts, steamed brussels sprouts, and 2 or 3 Tbsp chicken broth in a skillet. Bring to a boil; cover; cook 5 minutes.
- Stir chopped chestnuts into your favorite stuffing. Chestnuts complement an apple-and-turkey-sausage stuffing especially well.
- Chop chestnuts and use them in cookie batter in place of high-fat peanuts or macadamias.
- Sprinkle chopped pieces over ice cream or apple pie for a tasty dessert.