Chestnuts, Chestnuts, Chestnuts! How to prepare them, and what to do with them

Chestnuts, 1/2
Chestnuts – how to roast, boil, and shell them, and what to do with them after

Growing up, I always thought of chestnuts as a bit of a luxury. Every year my step dad would take on the job of roasting and peeling them to add to the Thanksgiving stuffing, and every year I would fill my plate at least ninety percent full of said stuffing, and eat all the chestnuts out of it I could find. They were a small part of our holidays, but one of my favorites.

Because chestnuts are so scarce on the shelves, and pricey to boot, it never made sense to me why they’re depicted as such an iconic American treat. They’re common throughout Europe and Asia, sold whole, or candied, or pureed, or even freshly roasted from street vendors… but here in the States, you’re lucky to find them in a jar. Why?

After a little research (read, wikipedia), I discovered that chestnuts trees were once a common appearance in the US, up until about a century ago when they were mostly wiped out by a fungus called blight. With such huge devastation to the crops, it’s taken this long for trees to be re-planted, and at very high cost to the growers. In the meantime, the chestnuts available here are mostly imported, hence the high price.

Chestnuts, 2/2

So when I came across heaps of Michigan grown chestnuts at my local market last week, I knew I had to snatch them up, whatever the price. You know, to support the production of more American chestnuts. And because they’re so freakin’ delicious.

Okay, so now that we have some whole, raw chestnuts… what do we do with them?

Shelling Chestnuts
The Chestnut Life Cycle – not including the part where I devour them!

There are a couple popular ways to prepare chestnuts – roasting, and boiling. Neither are very difficult to do, but they do require a little time and effort. Here’s how:

Roasting chestnuts:


Roasting chestnuts in the oven (or over hot coals, if you prefer) is probably the most common method, and definitely the most flavorful. The nuts become lightly browned and aromatic, and can be eaten warm from the oven, tossed with olive oil and salt, or used in a recipe. For 1 lb. of shelled chestnuts, start with at least 1.5 lbs. raw. There will undoubtedly be some bad ones in the bunch, so try to factor that in.

First, using a sharp knife, score an X on the flat side of each chestnut. This will make shelling easier, and also let steam escape while the nuts roast. Do not skip this step, or the chestnuts may explode like little grenades in your oven! Be sure to cut all the way through the shell, and only slightly into the meat of the nut. There’s a tool called a chestnut knife specifically designed for this, but a paring knife works fine – just be careful not to slip and cut yourself!

Arrange the nuts cut-side up on a rimmed baking sheet, and roast at 425f. for about 20 minutes, or until the shells have begun to open and peel back where they were cut. Some of them may not open up, and that’s okay… there are always a few duds, and the nut inside is probably bad. Discard those.

Roasting Chestnuts
Before                                                                            After

Let the nuts cool only slightly before peeling them. The shells will come off much easier if the nuts are still warm, so I like to work with a dozen or so at a time, while keeping the rest in the oven (with the heat off) to stay warm. Chestnuts have a hard outer shell as well as a papery inner skin, so be sure to remove both. If you come across any black, hard, or moldy nuts, discard them. Peeling all the hot nuts is the hardest part of the process, but don’t worry, it’s worth it!

Once all the chestnuts are peeled, they’re ready to be eaten or used in a recipe. Or, they can be stored in an airtight container in the fridge for up a few days.


Boiling chestnuts:

Boiling is a little faster than roasting, and makes the chestnuts quite a bit softer and easier to peel. The flavor is a little more mild compared to roasting, but still sweet and perfect for most applications.

Just as before, start by scoring an X on the flat side of each nut. While you do this, bring a pot of water to a boil.

Add the chestnuts to the water, and let boil for 10-15 minutes, or until the shells have begun to peel back and open. Turn off the heat.

 

Boiling Chestnuts

Using a slotted spoon or the like, transfer 4-5 chestnuts to a clean dish towel. Bundle the towel around the nuts to keep the heat in, and use the towel to help peel back the shells and rub off the inner skins. Repeat with another batch of nuts hot from the water until all of the nuts are shelled. You may want to use an older, rattier towel for this, as the mahogany colored shells may leave some stains.

 

Shelled Chestnuts
Voila!

What to do with them:

Chestnuts are great for snacking on, adding to salads, or mixing into stuffing with cranberries or apples. You can braise them with meat, or saute with garlic and vegetables. They can be used to make a wonderful winter soup, or chopped and stirred into a warm risotto… but the possibilities don’t stop there.

These naturally sweet nuts are also great in desserts. Like almonds or hazelnuts, chestnuts are perfect paired with chocolate, baked into cakes, or whipped into a decadent mousse.

In Europe it isn’t uncommon to find candied chestnuts (marrons glacés), chestnut puree, chestnut syrup, and chestnut flour. Around here, there are generally only two ways to get our hands on products like this – the internet, or our own kitchens.

Chestnut Puree

Chestnut puree is simply boiled chestnuts (because they’re softer than roasted) that have been blended with just enough water or cream to make a smooth paste. Some canned varieties are sweetened, others not – sugar, honey, or syrup can be added to taste.

Chestnut Flour

Chestnut flour is great for baking, especially for those with an intolerance for gluten. It can be made by drying roasted and peeled chestnuts at a very low temperature, or in a dehydrator, and then grinding them as finely as possible. Because of the time and effort, and how expensive chestnuts are to begin with, I’ve found it is significantly more economical to buy chestnut flour online.

Candied Chestnuts (aka, Marrons Glacés, or Marrons Confits)

Candied chestnuts are roasted or boiled chestnuts that have then been cooked repeatedly in a bath of syrup. Some varieties are sold dried like candy (glacés), and others in they’re own syrup (confits). 

To make your own candied chestnuts, start with 1 lb. of boiled or roasted chestnuts, with the shell and inner skin removed. In a pot, combine 1 lb. granulated sugar, 1 1/4 cups water, and 1 tsp. vanilla extract. Bring to a boil, stirring constantly, for about five minutes or until the sugar has dissolved. Add the chestnuts, and continue to stir until the mixture returns to a boil. Cook for 10-12 minutes, then pour the chestnuts and syrup into a heatproof container and loosely cover. Let sit at room temperature for 12-24 hours, then pour everything back into the pot and repeat the process. Do this another 1-2 times, or until the chestnuts have absorbed all of the syrup, and then spread the nuts on a wire rack to dry overnight. Or, repeat the process only once and store the chestnuts in jar with the syrup.

~

Now that I’ve expanded my chestnut knowledge, I’m looking forward to experimenting with recipes. As I mentioned before, I’m only really familiar with chestnuts in stuffing, so branching out into new applications for them is going to be a real treat.

What are your favorite ways to use chestnuts? Do you have any fond memories of them as a child, or any family traditions around them? Please tell – I appreciate any ideas and would love to hear your stories!

Update: for a couple of chestnut-y recipes, check out my posts on Creamy Chestnut Soup (vegan), or Candied Chestnut Cake (gluten-free)

 

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54 Responses to Chestnuts, Chestnuts, Chestnuts! How to prepare them, and what to do with them

  1. Abby November 29, 2012 at 11:00 pm #

    ohhh I’m so envious you have chestnuts at your farmers market! I’ll have to keep my eye out for them, I’ve only ever had them roasted from a street vendor (just like you said!) in japan :) but they are so delicious.

    • Willow November 29, 2012 at 11:05 pm #

      You might be able to find them in the store, near the produce. Even if you don’t see them, ask for them so the stores know they’re in demand! ;)

      • bill morin September 20, 2018 at 1:54 pm #

        My name is Bill.I have several 25 yr old hybrid chestnut trees in MA and this is a BUMPER year, with 1000s on the trees. I like them raw (best), microwaved, roasted and boiled. After giving them to family and friends I will have many and need a good preservative method to bring them back for eating until next season.

  2. Cathy November 30, 2012 at 8:49 am #

    The Christmas markets open in Germany this weekend, and I always head straight for the roasted chestnuts stand! I just posted my chestnut cake using chestnut flour today (http://wordsandherbs.wordpress.com/2012/11/30/chestnut-cake/ ), but I love them in all forms.As a child we collected them on family walks and grilled or roasted them at home. Lovely post!

    • Willow November 30, 2012 at 3:33 pm #

      Mmm, sounds wonderful! And that cake looks delicious, thank you for sharing!

      • bill morin September 20, 2018 at 1:56 pm #

        My name is Bill.I have several 25 yr old hybrid chestnut trees in MA and this is a BUMPER year, with 1000s on the trees. I like them raw (best), microwaved, roasted and boiled. After giving them to family and friends I will have many and need a good preservative method to bring them back for eating until next season.

  3. shannon weber December 1, 2012 at 1:29 pm #

    hooray for chestnut information! I’m embarrassed to say this, but i had my first ever chestnut last year when i was experimenting with a stuffing recipe, and i loved it! I have no idea how to work with them (beyond the stuffing application) so thank you for the tutorial. :)

    • Willow December 1, 2012 at 3:10 pm #

      Nothing to be ashamed of, Shannon. Aren’t they great? I’m excited to share what I’ve been making with them, so stay tuned for some recipes. :)

  4. Ruthy (Omeletta) December 2, 2012 at 4:49 pm #

    loooove chestnuts!! Living in NYC but from MI, they’re my favorite sign that winter is finally arrived :) And I don’t know exactly why, but your “life cycle of the chestnut” photo totally cuted me out.

  5. Courtney J December 3, 2012 at 4:26 am #

    Thank you so much for this. I’ve never actually had chestnuts before and had NO idea how to prepare them. Tons of great info. Now…to find some to cook with! :)

  6. Sunday Morning Banana Pancakes December 3, 2012 at 5:29 pm #

    I had my first chestnut about 3 years ago in stuffing which is the only way I have ever eaten a chestnut – I loved the ways you shared to enjoy chestnuts, it makes me want to expand my chestnut palate!

  7. Anonymous December 3, 2012 at 7:07 pm #

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  8. tonya October 10, 2014 at 6:46 pm #

    We have 2 huge chestnut trees in our yard. We have only raked them up and burned them with the leaves!
    I need information on when to eat them and when its bad. When they fall off the tree?
    Im so glad I found this I have learned alot thank you so much.

    • Ashley November 6, 2014 at 10:23 pm #

      Tonya,
      I just recently was invited to a chestnut farm and the owners were so gracious to explain what to do with chestnuts! They fall off the tree in a very prickly tennis ball-like seed. Then they are ready to “pick” when the ball splits open. So, my son and I wore rubber boots and stomped on the balls to kick out the beautiful dark brown nut. Then you need to store them in a breathable container, like a paper bag, in your refrigerator for a couple weeks. Then cook as described above in the blog. When you store them, think of them like a carrot instead of a nut. We picked them all through October in MI.
      Hope that helps!

      • Willow Arlen November 7, 2014 at 9:22 am #

        This is great information Ashley, thanks for chiming in! I’ve never even seen a chestnut tree in person (definitely something that needs to be remedied), so I couldn’t have been much help. :)

  9. Idoia July 29, 2015 at 5:00 pm #

    do you know how to preserve them roasted to eat through
    Ou the year? I have just devour my Gefen packet from China. They take me back to the times I used to collect them from the ground in the Basque Country woods.

    • Willow Arlen July 31, 2015 at 12:31 pm #

      I’m afraid I don’t know much about preserving them, Idoia. I have heard they can be frozen for up to several months, but haven’t tried it myself. Sorry I can’t be of more help!

    • Karen November 10, 2016 at 9:20 am #

      My daughter just brought m a small bag of Gefen chestnuts . I had them in Rome with the children but she didn’t remember them. When we tasted the first one , I was stunned at this soft tasteless blob . It was blackish .Threw away half of it , put them in a Ziploc bag in the ‘frig . I haven’t got a clue what to do with these things . Can I put them in the oven to crisp up ? I don’t know what ty cost but a nickel is too much . Can you be of any help ? It was such a disappointment .

      • Willow Arlen November 14, 2016 at 1:34 pm #

        Hi Karen, that’s terrible! Chestnuts (once cooked and removed from their shell) should be a creamy / caramel color. If they’re black, dry, hard, or mushy… they’re bad. Unless they were already prepared when your daughter bought them and something in the way they were made changed the color (I can’t think what would do that, but I’m just guessing). If possible, I would take them back and try to get a refund. Sorry I can’t be of more help!

  10. Kathy August 6, 2015 at 6:36 pm #

    Just found your webpage and am excited to discover more. I have two chestnut trees and have been GIVING bushels of the nuts to friends and family for 16 years. What a fool, eh? Last year I decided to explore alternative uses for myself. I have made soup, cheesecake, chocolate cheesecake, and substituted my unsweetened puree for peanut butter in a ‘monster cookie’ recipe that uses oatmeal and no flour. I’m particularly interested in ideas to make a butter (like peanut butter or Nutella). Thanks!

    • Willow Arlen August 7, 2015 at 3:05 pm #

      Thanks for the comment, Kathy! I’m jealous of your chestnut trees — I get cravings for chestnuts every fall, but rarely buy them because of the price. I’ve never considered turning them unto a nut butter or nutella, but that sounds like a fantastic idea! I bet they would work perfectly!

      • Helen September 19, 2015 at 3:50 pm #

        Have so enjoyed your site and the responses!!! I have several trees and bushels of nut!!! Now I know what alli candi with them!!! Thanks!

        • Willow Arlen September 21, 2015 at 12:37 pm #

          Thanks for the sweet comment, Helen! Have fun candying!

          • Maryanne October 17, 2015 at 8:27 am #

            Thanks so much for your wonderful post!..found it the most helpful to me of all that I read! Plus, being a visual person appreciated the life-cycle as well! I agree a “butter” sounds fantastic as well as adding to risotto and making that Winter soup..I want to read more of your writings. Off to dehydrate my nuts as today I have scratched up fingers from yesterday’s peelings! My first time processing will all be worth it I’m sure! Maryanne, PA

          • Willow Arlen October 18, 2015 at 12:51 pm #

            Thanks Maryanne, glad you found it helpful!

  11. rick September 23, 2015 at 11:57 am #

    I recently discovered a chestnut tree at our new home in South Carolina. Although our dogs Abby and Snookie are unsure of the prickly yard finds, Frank and I are already harvesting them for roasting this holiday season.

  12. Lisa November 19, 2015 at 12:10 pm #

    Thankyou for this information!

  13. Naomi December 12, 2015 at 4:12 pm #

    Here’s my question – Could I boil the chestnuts with the peel in a stew? I just don’t feel like doing the 2 step process. I’d much rather serve myself stew and spend a minute peeling the chestnuts out of my bowl than a 2 step pre-dinner cooking option. (read: hungry) What do you think? Will the peels make my stew too bitter?

    • Willow Arlen December 13, 2015 at 2:06 pm #

      Hi Naomi — that’s a great question. My understanding is that chestnuts have a very bitter chemical in them that comes out as they’re cooked, and in my experience, the water is very dark and murky looking. I haven’t tasted it to know just how bitter it is, but I’m not sure I would want that in my stew. (If you want a more definitive answer, I’d say boil some chestnuts in water, then give the water a taste.) Hope that helps!

      • Willow Arlen December 13, 2015 at 2:08 pm #

        Oh, also — I have seen some stores carrying already cooked and peeled chestnuts (in jars or cans), which are a great shortcut from having to cook and peel them yourself. The ones I’ve seen are a bit pricier than fresh chestnuts, but it would no doubt be a quick fix for your stew.

  14. Lisa Setzer July 4, 2016 at 5:30 pm #

    I found chestnuts in our field today while picking wild blackberries. There are lots of chest nuts on the ground from last year. Are they safe to eat or should I wait on this year’s harvest? I’m excited to try them in my fruit breads & cakes instead of almonds.

    • Willow Arlen July 15, 2016 at 6:47 pm #

      Hi Lisa! That’s amazing — I’m so jealous of your wild blackberries and fresh chestnuts! I’m no expert on harvesting chestnuts, but personally I would err on the side of caution and wait for the fresh ones. If you aren’t sure, you could try roasting a couple of the ones you’ve found and open them up. If they’ve gone bad, there will likely be some red flags once you get to the meat of the nut. Hope that helps!

  15. Malcolm Craven October 30, 2016 at 10:29 am #

    I live in France and I have 40 sweet chestnut trees in my garden. They are a hybrid variety are some are like golf balls. My friends and neighbours all come and help themselves to a bucket full. I keep a boxfull in my car to give away when I can. It has been a bumper crop this year. They have now finished falling and I will be sweeping up and tipping any left.

    • Willow Arlen November 2, 2016 at 12:31 pm #

      Wow! That’s incredible! Do you have a favorite recipe for using them up?

      • Lisa November 8, 2016 at 9:28 am #

        We have 3 trees in our yard and I am looking for long term ways to preserve them. So many get wasted! Saw a show where they were jarred?!

        • Willow Arlen November 14, 2016 at 1:35 pm #

          Hi Lisa, that’s a great question. I haven’t tried preserving chestnuts myself, so I don’t have an answer, but I’d try searching google for “preserving chestnus” or “how to jar chestnuts” and see what you can find. I’m sure someone has done it!

  16. Tim Clarke November 10, 2016 at 11:49 am #

    Hi and thanks for this useful info. Just a wee thing though. The French for ‘There you go’ is VOILA not VIOLA, which is a musical instrument between a violin and a cello.

    • Willow Arlen November 14, 2016 at 1:30 pm #

      Ahahaha, thank you Tim! Just a typo — I’ve fixed it now. :)

      • Cindareller November 30, 2016 at 7:25 pm #

        Well at least you didn’t say, “wha-la!” that we see so often on the Innerwebs.
        However as a card-carrying Grammar-Nazi, I appreciate the clarification! (well, hell; is it “grammar” or “grammer”??? LOL I guess I’m not so perfect after all Ü

        Thanks for the chestnut info. I’ve never had them. Beginning my quest to find them!

        • Willow Arlen December 1, 2016 at 4:22 pm #

          Heheh, you’re welcome! And thanks for being a nice Grammar-Nazi — I like when people catch my mistakes, as long as they’re nice about it! :)

  17. JYLESE November 15, 2016 at 3:57 pm #

    Take a look at FILIPE . COM
    It,s all about sweet chestnuts.
    In Europe, we are the bigger producer of sweet chestnuts. We simply love them and eat them especially in winter time. It,s a pity that in America most children do not know sweet chestnuts. We do have different variaties but there is one in particular more sweet than the others. It is called Longal. Wish you could taste it. I hope that in future the chestnuts can again return to your markets.

    • Willow Arlen November 20, 2016 at 1:14 pm #

      Thanks for the info, Jylese! I didn’t realize there were such a variety of chestnuts. :)

  18. Vassiliki December 1, 2016 at 1:22 pm #

    Thanks for all the suggestions and ideas!!! We have chestnuts and were looking for good tips and recipes and yours have been helpfull!!! We are about to make the candied ones and the only thing I would like to add to your recipe is lemon juice when finishing boiling them in the syrup because otherwise the sugar makes crystals!!! That’s from other similar recipes. It’s sth very common here in Greece!! We even make the whole nut when they are unripe with the green cover outside before it gets hard inside and it’s delicious!!!!

    • Willow Arlen December 1, 2016 at 4:21 pm #

      That’s awesome, Vassiliki, thanks for sharing! I’ll have to try the lemon juice next time. :)

  19. KJackson December 3, 2016 at 2:52 pm #

    If you have a COSTCO in your area….. I just bought organic Roasted Chestnuts shelled and ready to eat. 21 ozs for $4.99.

  20. Sam October 6, 2017 at 9:40 am #

    Hello, has anyone tried freezing the puree? I have just collected a carrier bag of chestnuts but want to keep the puree for Christmas to stuff the turkey. Any ideas? Thanks

  21. Ted Dentay October 7, 2017 at 5:36 am #

    Hey, there.

    Didn’t know that chestnuts were a lifelong dream! Always loved them (come from a European family) in any which form. Now that I live in S. France, ’tis the season! I’ve been eying them hungrily for months and they’re all over the place here, usually run over by cars. But got out the other day and gathered 10 pounds in a few minutes. Next comes the nummies!

  22. Rolfe Jaremus October 16, 2017 at 10:43 pm #

    Thanks for the information. I have two hybrid chestnuts at my farm in east central Illinois and now have literally buckets of them in October each years. I’ve been eating them as a snack but haven’t done much else. I think I am going to try the purée. By the way – they aremessy trees as the nut husk is spiky and pinches like a pin, but fortunately when they fall from the free the nut falls out. Thanks again,

  23. new nuts October 23, 2017 at 5:51 pm #

    We have lots of chestnut trees and chestnuts. . help. . i have no idea what to do with them! I will try roasting them. It would be nice to sell them, right now they are just going bad because we do not know what to do.

  24. Daily Choice Hemp Oil December 31, 2017 at 9:26 am #

    Simply a smiling visitant here to share the love (:
    , btw great style.

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