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Chestnuts roasted

Chestnuts roasting on an open fire,
Jack Frost nipping on your nose,
Yuletide carols being sung by a choir,
And folks dressed up like Eskimos.

We’re all familiar with these lyrics from the popular “Christmas Song” we hear during the holiday season. The song was written by Mel Tormé in 1945 but was turned into a classic by singer Nat King Cole in 1946.

The song evokes strong imagery and sentimental feelings, but honestly, many of us have never eaten a chestnut, let alone thought about roasting them at home.

Long-handled chestnut roaster

It’s easy to roast chestnuts in the oven, although if you have a fireplace, you might want to try the more traditional way to roast chestnuts – over an open fire.

Using a fireplace popcorn popper or chestnut roaster is ideal, but finding one in Bermuda could be a smidgen difficult. The nice thing about long-handled roasters is their lids. You can skip cutting a slit in the chestnuts as the roaster lid keeps them from exploding out of the pan and allows you to shake the chestnuts around for even roasting, instead of having to turn them over yourself. While these roasters are handy, they’re not necessary for enjoying chestnuts roasted over an open fire. Just use any long-handled pan, and cut a slit in the nuts. Better yet, head outdoors and roast on the BBQ!

To roast chestnuts over an open fire….

  1. Place a layer of chestnuts in the pan. Cover the pan with the lid and hold it over, but not directly in, the fire. After five minutes or so, shake or stir the chestnuts around, making sure to roast all sides adequately. Repeat this process every few minutes for about 20 to 25 minutes.
  2. The chestnuts are done when the shells curl back or when they break open. The bottom of the shells might char lightly and turn black.
  3. While they’re still warm, remove the shells. The fuzzy inside skin will peel off along with the outer shell.

To roast chestnuts in the oven…..

  1. Rinse the chestnuts. After rinsing lay them on a towel and pat dry.
  2. Use a sharp bread knife to cut a slit in the flat side of the chestnut shells. This allows steam to escape and prevents them from exploding in the oven. It also makes peeling easier.
  3. Place the prepared chestnuts in a single layer on a shallow baking pan. Roast at 375° for about 20 minutes. For even roasting, gently stir to turn them over after about 10 minutes. The sliced part of the shells will curl back when the chestnuts are done.
  4. Remove the chestnuts from the oven and let cool slightly for 5 to 10 minutes before removing the shells. While still warm, remove the shells, being careful not to burn your fingers. Peel the shell away from the slit opening. The inside skin will peel away from the chestnut along with the outer shell. Serve plain or dip in melted butter.

Here’s a handy video on how to roast chestnuts from Chef John Mitzewich for About.com

Chestnuts grow from mid-fall to early-spring, and they peak during the holidays—which is why they’re associated with this time of year. They have a sweet, nutty flavor and are the only nut that contains vitamin C. Chestnuts also contain omega-3 fatty acids which have been shown to reduce inflammation and may help lower risk of chronic diseases such as heart disease, cancer, and arthritis. A one ounce serving, or 3 to 5 nuts, contains 69 calories.

When buying fresh chestnuts for roasting, choose those that are all about the same size for even cooking, are firm and heavy for their size, with smooth, glossy shells. One pound of fresh raw chestnuts equals about 2 cups roasted, shelled chestnuts. Store your chestnuts in a ventilated plastic bag in the crisper of your refrigerator or freeze them for later use.

Apart from roasting chestnuts on an open fire, try using them in recipes. Chestnuts can be used in sweet or savoury dishes. They can be candied, boiled, steamed, grilled, or roasted. Use them in casseroles, add to vegetables, or in stuffing for the holiday turkey, chicken or duck.