Chestnuts are a versatile ingredient: they can be used in savoury and sweet dishes. While other nuts (eg. Brazil nuts, pecan and pistachios) are generally imported product, chestnuts are New Zealand-grown and plentiful for two months from mid-March to the end of May.
Choose glossy, plump firm nuts which indicate they have been freshly picked and chilled.
Chestnuts are seldom rock-hard unless straight off the tree. Discard chestnuts that look dull or aged since they are more likely to carry rotten fruit.
Find chestnuts at selected Countdown supermarkets and at organic retailers East West superstore, IE Produce, Ceres Fresh Market, Harvest Whole Foods, Huckleberry Farm and Village Organics. Chestnuts can also be found at farmers’ markets nationwide
After harvest, the starch in chestnuts converts to sugar. Left at room temperature chestnuts will noticeably sweeten after a few days and are best used within the week. Alternatively, by storing chestnuts in the fridge, the ripening process will slow down and they will last for up to three weeks.
Quite different to other nuts, chestnuts contain less than one per cent fat. Chestnuts contain fibre and are a good source of vitamin C.
During preparation, it’s important to pierce chestnuts to prevent them exploding. Within a day of picking, chestnuts can be gently squeezed and are easily pierced, or cut an ‘X’ across the top using kitchen scissors, or with a sharp knife mark a horizontal slit over the rounded back of the nut.
To boil or steam chestnuts, after piercing the outer shell, boil nuts for 15-20 minutes or steam for 25-30 minutes. Peel the outer shell and remove the pellicle (inner skin) if the whole nut is desired. Otherwise, once cooked, cut the nuts in half and scoop out with a spoon.
To roast chestnuts, pierce the skin then roast nuts at 180°C for 20 minutes before serving. Chestnuts can also be roasted in the embers of a fire or in a heavy frying pan over a gentle heat. Remember: cut a slit in each end to prevent nuts from exploding.
- Chestnuts enhance the flavours of vegetables such as mushrooms, kumara, onion celery and garlic.
- The sweet chestnut flavour perfectly complements fruit such as apples, pears, raisins and cranberries, as well as chocolate and coffee.
- Steam chestnuts, scoop out flesh and purée to make chestnut, mushroom and port pâté.
- Chestnuts make an ideal barbecued pre-dinner snack. Simply roast chestnuts, peel, season to taste and eat hot.
- Peel and add whole or chopped raw chestnuts to soups, casseroles and stuffing.