This was an epic 2014 holiday post driven by hunger and some childhood memories.
As a recent trip to Japan underscored, I much prefer to buy them pre-cooked. (they have chestnuts in lots of food!)
Although it was tough to know what food it was in (see video at the end of this article!)
Chestnuts (Not) Roasting on an Open Fire
As a young lad, I remember gorging on chestnuts!
There wasn’t less danger in the 60’s, but there was much less paranoia. So I recall sitting in front of our electric fire in England, placing raw chestnuts between the grill and waiting with excitement, like the small child I was, until the chestnuts popped. A fork was used to ungracefully remove the chestnuts (often ending up on the floor feet away), while ripping open the hot shells and then feeling our tongues burned as my siblings and I gobbled down the delicious meat.
Living in New York City years later, the corner stands of hot chestnuts and toasty pretzels often compelled me to go blocks out of my way, guided by the roasty smell and trail of shells littering the gutters — like a Hansel & Gretel forest trail.
Even today, the smell of roasting chestnuts transports me back to English winters and inspires one of my few culinary vices on Amazon Prime, where I order cooked, peeled bags of chestnuts frequently.
Fast forward to my supermarket trip last night.
Maybe it was the Christmas music playing from the loudspeakers on Granby Street (on my 200 yard commute), or the memories my mum’s birthday (yesterday) brought on, or maybe it was just fate that I spied a bag of raw chestnuts on my weekly food run.
Whatever fate transpired, I grabbed the bag with child-like eagerness, paid my $6.99 (wow chestnuts are expensive) and quickly drove home to cook.
A little sidebar about my cooking skills — put me in front of a website, and I can tell you what’s right, what’s wrong, and how to fix it in 15 minutes flat. Put me in front of a cooker, and I panic. It’s not that I can’t cook, rather that ingredients and I have a way of disagreeing about amounts; and cooking times are just a guide, right?
I diligently followed the instructions on the bag label that said “to roast chestnuts, cut an X into the flat side of each with a sharp knife.” Although, many of the chestnuts had no flat side; many of the X’s ended up looking like T’s, and many succumbed to the sharp knife to become chestnut halves.
Challenge number one came on reading the second set of instructions: “roast at 400 degrees… on a rimmed baking sheet.” Hmm… the only baking tray I have came with the rental I live in; it’s a thin aluminum tray that I think is placed under a turkey to stop splashes. It would work though, my culinary-less brain told me, so I placed the chestnuts in lines as the oven pre-heated to the set temperature.
Next came the timing issue. At 15 minutes, I grabbed a chestnut from the oven, and after playing “chestnut shuffle” to avoid burning my hands, found the nut wasn’t quite cooked enough. Fair enough, the ‘recipe’ said 20 minutes max, so I expected to have five more minutes before my chestnut feast.
So I dutifully waited the five minutes, tried another chestnut — same issue; so I let the tray sit in the oven for another 10 minutes while I finished watching the most recent episode of “The Flash” on Hulu.
Time to take those chestnuts out! By this time, I was hungry and salivating with the same expectations of the young child who had roasted by the electric fire.
Unfortunately, challenge three was a true cooking conundrum. I have no oven mitts. Umm, I have a MacGyvermoment as I grab a hand towel from the bathroom, place the baking sheet on the countertop and begin the chestnut selection process for the appetizer, main course and dessert.
First nut… a little overcooked, but that was okay; there was a whole sheet of yummy chestnuts to select from. Second nut… a little overcooked too, but probably because it was in the same area as the first, obviously.
I am nothing but an optimist and went through the whole tray expecting just one to be cooked to perfection, even biting down on a couple that would’ve looked like a cowboy testing the gold coins of the old west if anyone had been there watching — and not rolling around on the floor laughing at my predicament.
Fast forward 30-something chestnuts, and I found nut-nirvana… one of these brown delights was indeed cooked to nutty perfection; and as I bit down on it, after clearing off the two plates of burnt, dry and tasteless husks, I was instantly back in our house in England on a blustery winter’s day, enjoying the treats of the electric fire. Yum!
This morning as I came into the office, I announce that I would like to write a blog post, to share the insights learned from my “chestnut catastrophe,” so that everyone can ultimately enjoy the taste of roasted chestnuts, perfectly cooked, perfectly prepared, and perfectly delicious.
So here’s the link to buy them on Amazon. Enjoy!