Illustration by Kristy Heilenday
You don’t need an open fire to roast chestnuts, and the company of one Jack Frost is optional. What you will need is a little bit of heat and a little bit of time to peel, but don’t worry — your efforts shall be rewarded.
These prehistoric nuts were possibly one of the first foods ingested by humans. Prevalent in early Asia and Greece, from there they spread to Europe. Here in the states, the American chestnut was once one of the most plentiful trees on the East Coast until stricken by blight. West Coast planting helped save the species, and it thrives there today.
What to Buy
Look for a rich, shiny, golden-brown complexion with no mold and tight skin. Don’t be afraid to handle them; there should be moderate weight to each chestnut, and zero sound. Anything rattling within the shell most likely means the nut itself is shriveled, and that’s a no-go.
How to Prepare
Roasting is traditional. Just be sure to score the shells before placing them in the oven, over a fire or on the stove. (No one likes an explosion.) Once they’re warm and toasty, be sure to remove the underlying brown skin along with the shell before adding the nuts to stuffing, salad, pasta — the list goes on. You can boil or microwave them as well.
Roasted Chestnut and Wild Rice Stuffing
Yields 12 3/4-cup servings
By Patrick Willis of Lemaire
2 cups premium wild rice
4 cups chicken broth
2 cups roasted chestnuts, chopped
1 cup dried apricots, quartered
1 cup fresh apples, medium diced
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 ½ cups yellow onion, small diced
1 ½ cups carrot, small diced
1 cup celery, diced small
1 cup oyster mushrooms
½ cup country ham, small diced
1 cup freshly squeezed orange juice
¼ cup minced parsley and sage
½ teaspoon kosher salt, divided
¼ teaspoon black pepper
Ground cinnamon and coarse sea salt, to taste
Preheat your oven to 375 degrees. Cut a ½-inch crisscross on the flat side of each chestnut, cutting through the shell. Place them in a shallow pan and bake for 25 to 30 minutes. Allow them to cool, then peel. Place chestnuts in a cast-iron skillet with butter and sauté over medium-high heat until they are well-coated, then place the skillet in the oven and roast for about 10 minutes. Season with coarse sea salt and a pinch of cinnamon, then chop the chestnuts. In a 4-quart stockpot, combine wild rice and chicken broth with ¼ teaspoon of salt; bring to a boil. Reduce heat, cover and simmer 45 minutes or until rice is tender, stirring occasionally. Drain and place in a large bowl; cover. Shortly before the wild rice is ready, melt butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Cook onions, garlic, carrots, celery, mushrooms and ham until tender, about 8 minutes. Add the apricots, orange juice, salt and pepper; simmer until the apricots have plumped and the liquid has reduced slightly. Stir in the wild rice, fresh apples, herbs and chestnuts, then season with salt and pepper and serve on your favorite platter.