Rich and meaty chestnuts fare well in the nutrition department. They are lower in fat and calories than other nut varieties. Half a cup of cooked chestnuts has 149 calories and only 1.6 grams of fat, mostly mono- and polyunsaturated. The same amount of walnuts has an astronomical 742 calories and 74 grams of fat! (But that doesn't mean walnuts aren't good for you - in fact, studies show they are very heart healthy nuts. If you're watching your waistline you need to limit your portion size to 1/4 to 1/2 cup.)
One-half cup of cooked chestnuts is also a source of iron, thiamin, riboflavin, vitamin B6, vitamin C and a good source of magnesium and folate. And on the fiber front - you'll get almost 6 grams. Adding chestnuts to your diet is definitely using your nut!
There are many varieties of chestnuts and the trees are common throughout Europe, Asia and North America. Chestnuts develop inside prickly burrs that pop open once the nuts are ripe. They have a glossy, dark mahogany-colored outer shell or skin that must be removed before the nut can be eaten.
Chestnuts are often sold in their shells. Fresh chestnuts are generally available from September through February. If purchased fresh, they must be roasted or boiled so that the dark outer skin can be removed. You can also find chestnuts already peeled and ready for use in gourmet shops or from online suppliers. (see "Information" below) Chestnuts are also available as a purée, in a sweetened paste format and as chestnut flour for baking. Preserved and candied chestnuts can also be found, particularly during the holiday season. The term marrons glacés is French for chestnuts that have been preserved in sweet syrup.
Choose nuts that are firm and plump and have hard glossy shells. Avoid nuts that have small blemishes or signs of mold on the shell. Press the shell with your fingers to make sure the nut is not soft and that the shell is full.
Fresh chestnuts must be stored in the refrigerator because of their high moisture content. Place the nuts in perforated plastic bags, or solid plastic bags that you've put some holes in. Put a damp paper towel in with them and they should last several weeks.
For longer storage, it is recommended that you blanch the nuts in boiling water and then peel them. They can then be vacuum-sealed and put in plastic bags in the freezer. They will keep up to a year stored this way.
To remove the hard outer shell, there are two basic methods: baking or roasting and boiling. In both cases, with a sharp knife carefully score or cut an "X" into the flat side of the nut. Once the nuts are shelled you can chop, mash or purée as you would a cooked potato.
For roasting: place the scored chestnuts in a single layer on a cookie sheet. Cook for about 20 minutes at 350 F. Or you can use a chestnut roaster! When the nuts are ready the outer shell will start curling back. Once the nuts have cooled, remove the outer shell. You may also want to pull off the thin membranous coating underneath the shell.
For boiling: If you are going to be cooking the chestnuts further in another recipe, follow this method. In a large saucepan, cover nuts with cold water. Bring to a boil and simmer for three minutes. Remove from heat. Scoop out a few nuts at a time and peel off the shell and skin with a sharp knife. As they cool they will become more difficult to peel so keep them in the hot water until you are ready for them.
To cook the chestnuts completely in preparation for mashing or pureeing, simmer for 15 to 25 minutes, then peel and use.
If you're lucky enough to find a jar or can of marrons glac's in your stocking, you can enjoy them as they are or chop them up and use them to top desserts such as ice cream and mixed fruit.
Chestnuts work well in both sweet and savory dishes. They are often used as a substitute for potatoes or pasta in Europe as they have a high starch content. Mashed or whole braised chestnuts complement sweet potatoes, carrots, mushrooms, Brussels sprouts and cabbage. Chestnuts are classically used in stuffings and in desserts.
FYI: 1 pound in the shell = about 35 to 40 chesnuts
1 pound shelled, peeled = about 2-1/2 cups
1 cup cooked dried = 1 cup cooked fresh
1-1/2 pounds in shell = 1 pound shelled
8.25 ounces canned puree = 1 cup
1 pound shelled, peeled, cooked = 1 cup puree
3 ounces dried = 1 cup fresh
Healthy Ways to Enjoy Chestnuts:
- Try out chestnut flour or chestnut puree in baked goods such as muffins, quickbreads, pancakes and waffles.
- Be adventurous and add chestnuts or a little bit of chestnut puree to smoothies.
- Sprinkle some chestnut topping on cereal or hot oatmeal.
- Leftover chestnut soup is a warming meal midway through the day.
- Chopped, peeled and cooked chestnuts go well tossed over green or pasta salads.
- Serve some of the honeyed chestnut cornbread take along to work to have with your soup at lunch.
- Chestnuts add flavor and nutrients to a variety of side dishes such as our Brussels sprouts with chestnuts or the Stir-fried chestnuts with Chinese cabbage.
- Whip up a batch of the honeyed chestnut cornbread to serve with soups, stews or grilled meats.
- For a lovely treat, indulge in some candied chestnuts as a dessert after a celebration meal.
- Toss chopped cooked, peeled chestnuts into stir-fries.
- Roast some peeled chestnuts to serve with chicken or other roasted meats.
- Make a batch of chestnut and spinach dip for your holiday party or get together.
- Try chestnut stuffing for your Christmas turkey this year.
- Leftover honeyed chestnut cornbread is perfect for snacks.
- Munch away on a handful of roasted chestnuts.
- Chestnuts Online
- Chestnut Recipes and Cooking Information - http://homecooking.about.com/library/weekly/aa120400a.htm
- Specialty Foods Direct - http://www.epicureal.com (have whole chestnuts, unsweetened chestnut purée, chestnut spread, glazed chestnuts, candied chestnuts)
- The American Chestnut Foundation - http://www.acf.org
- Nuts: 200 Recipe from Around the World that Feature Nature's Perfect Ingredients by Linda and Fred Griffith, St. MartinÃ¯Â¿Â½s Press, 2003.
- Party Nuts: 50 Recipes from Spicy, Sweet, Savory and Simply Sensational Nuts by Sally Sampson, Harvard Common Press, 2002.
- The Book of Edible Nuts by Frederic Rosengarten, Jr., Dover Publications, 2004.
- The Greengrocer's Kitchen: Fruit and Nuts by Pete Luckett, Goose Lane Editions, 2001.
Did You Know? When roasting chestnuts it is important to score the flat side of the nut with a sharp knife. They can potentially explode from internal pressure in the oven if not pierced.