It’s not entirely clear when roasting chestnuts became a Yuletide tradition, but the holiday snack is high in fibre, low in fat, and loaded with vitamins, so they’re the perfect treat to help you get through the cold winter months. But you don’t have to travel back in time, or even to New York City where street vendors sell them, to taste these holiday treats. In fact, roasting chestnuts at home is surprisingly easy. So, put on Nat King Cole’s “The Christmas Song,” light a fire, and get ready to take in some holiday cheer.
1. Select your nuts carefully.
Once grown widely in Southern Ontario and Quebec, the chestnuts that you find at grocery stores in Canada are now largely imported from Asia and Europe.
Like any produce, not all nuts are equal. Squeeze and shake the nuts to make sure they haven’t dried up inside, and examine the surface for pinholes, which is the work of worms. Avoid nuts with mottled exteriors, which may indicate mould, and opt for glossy, hard nuts with a brown surface. If possible, grab the bigger chestnuts—they’ll be less work for more meat.
2. Cut into each nut with a knife or a fork.
Unless you want to change the song lyrics to “chestnuts exploding on an open fire,” cut x-shaped openings into each of the chestnut shells with a small knife. This will allow steam to escape and make peeling easier.
Of course cutting into the slippery shells may be easier said than done. You can also make a single cut with a serrated knife and blanch before roasting. Alternately, pierce each chestnut with a fork, ensuring it goes all the way through the shell. (Fair warning: this may make peeling the cooked nuts more difficult.)
3. Put chestnuts in a pan with a long handle and cover.
We don’t expect a lot of people have a chestnut roaster lying around, but cast iron skillet, popcorn skillet or another pan with a long handle and lid will do the trick. Spread the chestnuts evenly, cover them, and place the pan in a bed of coals in the fire. Don’t have a fireplace? You can achieve the same effect with your gas stove or barbecue.
4. Listen for the “pop.”
As the chestnuts roast, move them around in the fire’s embers so they cook evenly and don’t burn. If you have a chestnut roaster, be sure to flip it. In about 20 minutes, the shells will start to pop and burst open, and the meat will be golden brown and tender inside.
Wrap the chestnuts in a towel to steam them, then allow them to cool. After about five minutes, the inside skin should peel off easily, along with the outer layer. Discard any nuts that look like they may have mould inside.
Enjoy the fruits of your labour still warm, with a slight sprinkling of salt or dipped in melted butter.