If you’ve lived somewhere that counted vendors roasting chestnuts on street corners among its holiday traditions, then you’re already familiar with their comforting aroma. But if your roasted chestnut experience is limited to the Nat King Cole song, you’re in for a treat. (And no, the slimy ones you can buy in pouches in the grocery store don’t count, nor do water chestnuts.) Fortunately, you do not need access to an open fire in order to roast chestnuts. Here’s how to do it at home, in your very own oven.
How to roast chestnuts in an oven
Chestnuts are seasonal, and are more commonly found in grocery stores between October and December, so now’s the time to get them. If you’ve never gone chestnut shopping before and don’t know what to look for, Lena Abraham from Delish has some advice:
Good chestnuts should have taut, shiny skin, and should feel very hard. If the skin is wrinkled and the nut feels soft or has shrunken in the shell (you can tell by shaking it) then it’s no good.
Abraham’s recipe involves one pound of chestnuts which, once roasted, last two to three days if refrigerated. Here’s what to do:
1: Preheat oven to 425°. Lay chestnut flat side down on a cutting board and use a serrated knife to cut an “x” about 1/3 of the way through the chestnut. Repeat until all chestnuts are scored.
2 : Place chestnuts flat side down on a small baking sheet. Pour 2 cups cold water into another small rimmed baking sheet. Place chestnuts on top shelf of oven and baking sheet with water on the bottom shelf, directly below the chestnuts.
3 : Bake until skin peels away from chestnut, 20 to 25 minutes. Remove chestnuts from oven and cover with a clean kitchen towel. Let cool 5 minutes before peeling.
Then, it’s up to you to decide what to do with the nuts. Some people like using them in other foods, like soup, stews and stuffings. But others (me) prefer to enjoy roasted chestnuts straight out of the oven, peeled, then tossed in butter and salt. Abraham recommends trying other flavor combinations, like rosemary and salt, or nutmeg and sugar.
A brief history of chestnuts in the United States
Chestnuts used to be far more common in the United States in the 18th and 19th centuries than they are today. Chestnut trees grew from Maine to Alabama, and as far west as Ohio and Kentucky, and were more than 100 feet tall and about 10 feet wide.
At one point, there were about four billion trees producing the meaty nuts, USA Today reported. But tragedy struck in 1904, when a mysterious blight struck chestnut trees, and spread over the course of 40 years until there were very few left in the United States. Scientists are currently working on creating a genetically modified chestnut tree, but until that happens, about $20 million worth of chestnuts are imported here every year.