The Christmas tradition of roasting chestnuts over an open fire typifies the holiday season and gives participants a definite feel-good factor. Roasting chestnuts doesn’t just enjoy popularity for those who eat them. The tradition also has a place in musical folklore in “The Christmas Song” sung by various artists including Bing Crosby and Nat King Cole. With a potato-like texture and as the only nut to contain vitamin C, the simple chestnut provides a sweet and nutty taste that warms the spirit as well as the body.
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Long handled popcorn roasters or chestnut roasters provide the ideal tools for creating the perfect cooked chestnut. The length of the handle helps reduce the dangers of burning hands and the small holes of the tray allow heat to penetrate through to the chestnuts for even cooking. If you don’t have a chestnut roaster available, create your own by drilling approximately 30 holes in an old skillet. Even a fireplace shovel serves as a roasting tool but as a last resort, place chestnuts on a long metal skewer and roast them individually.
Choosing the best chestnuts
Always look for good quality chestnuts. Purchase them in season from mid-autumn to early spring and look for the popular Castagne or slightly more expensive Marroni varieties. The Castagne chestnut enjoys greater availability but the Marroni peels easily and produces a sweeter taste. Check the quality of chestnuts by looking for plumpness, a smooth texture, a shiny finish and a blemish-free appearance. Remember to shake bags of chestnuts thoroughly to check for traces of mould or shrivelling. Keep in mind that the larger the chestnut, the longer it takes to cook.
As found with many foods, good preparation helps produce the perfect roasted chestnut. Rinse the chestnuts thoroughly under water and pat dry with a tea towel. Hold each chestnut firmly on one side with the flat area facing outwards and score an “X” shape into each base, taking care not to cut your hands with the blade. Build your fire and let the initial flames die down until you have a glowing bed of warm embers to cook on.
Place the chestnuts in your roaster or converted skillet and shake loosely. Don’t worry about placing the chestnuts flat side down. Cover your roaster with a lid and hold over the open fire, a couple of centimetres above the embers, for 5 minutes. Withdraw the roaster, remove the lid and shake the chestnuts lightly to move them around for even roasting. Replace the lid and repeat the process at five-minute intervals, for 25 minutes, until the shells are lightly charred. Pierce an individual chestnut with a knife to check for tenderness before peeling and eating.
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