Storing & preparing fresh Chestnuts:Details for the Chestnut Connoisseur
Our fresh Chestnuts are different
Though common and prized in Europe and the Orient, few people in the USA remember what to do with a Chestnut, since our American Chestnut tree was destroyed by a blight in the early part of the 20th century. We've been working for almost 30 years to find ways to restore this missing part of the holidays, and we now grow our new hybrid Chestnuts successfully in Minnesota. Most of our nuts are smaller than the European standard, but they are also much easier to peel, and taste both sweeter and more hearty (see Why Do We Sell "Old Fashioned" Chestnuts?).
Almost all of the Chestnuts you will find for sale in grocery stores are imported from Europe. Increasingly, a few stores carry Chestnuts from Asia or from the rare local growers. Both European and Asian Chestnuts will be very large, but they are quite different from each other, and from ours. Nuts grown in the USA are Chinese or hybrid.
Storing fresh Chestnuts
Alas, very often Chestnuts in stores have been allowed to be dry and warm for a long time—a guarantee of good spoilage conditions.
If your refrigerator is cool enough, the nuts may keep just fine here for up to 3 months. Eventually, however, they will start to sprout and grow, even at 34 F. Chestnuts with sprouts shorter than 2 inches probably taste just fine; go ahead and cook them as usual, and snap the sprout off if you wish. Chestnuts with longer sprouts will often start to taste strange, as they change their chemistry from "storage" to "grow!". You can still eat them, but be prepared for differences.
To keep Chestnuts unsprouted for longer periods of time, they can be frozen, although this will alter their texture. Alternatively, they can be intentionally, rapidly dried and then re-hydrated by simmering in water for an hour or so. If you hard-dry them, it's best to remove the shells and skins about halfway through the drying process—at that point they both come off easily. When fully dry, the skin will stick tightly to the nut and be a lot of work to remove, although the skin will come off easily again when the nuts are soaking before use.
Properly stored fresh Chestnuts will feel hard as rocks if you squeeze them. Though our Chestnuts are quite sweet right out of the bag, due to our SECRET post harvest conditioning process, for best flavor you should dry them slightly. A unique aspect of Chestnuts is that they become sweeter as they dry. European Chestnuts usually taste very bland and starchy if eaten right out of storage; Asian Chestnuts will be variable. This slight drying not only makes the nuts a bit sweeter, it also intensifies their other flavors, making them much more interesting to eat.
Ideally, take Chestnuts out of the fridge 3-4 days before you intend to eat them, and spread them out where they can dry slowly at room temperature. When they are dry enough they will "give" perhaps 1/16" when you squeeze them. Longer drying will make the nutmeat feel spongy, although they are still fine to eat and cook with at this stage. There is a stage in the drying process, just a little after the ideal point for cooking, where the nuts become chewy and as sweet as candy. It's hard to catch them there, and very hard to keep them that way but worth trying. At this stage, they're just about the healthiest snack possible—and fantastically delicious.
Spoilage: Because they are so perishable, in spite of all we can do a few nuts will turn out to be moldy, so look before you bite! Sometimes only a small part will be spoiled, and the good part may or may not still be edible. Occasional superficial dark spots on a nutmeat usually have no effect on taste. An excellent test for spoilage is to float the undried nuts. Nuts out of the fridge, still rock hard, should all sink just like that rock. If they float, cut them in two and take a look—they are either spoiled, which should be obvious from discoloring, or they've dried out somewhat in storage. Almost all spoiled nuts will float, lucky for us.
Preparing fresh Chestnuts
See Cooking & Eating Fresh Chestnuts for information about specific methods of cooking (e.g., roasting, microwaving).
In general, European Chestnuts are really not edible when raw; they must be cooked. Removing the skin, or pellicle, is absolutely essential and, alas, difficult, since it is often folded into the nut. Asian Chestnuts of all kinds (Chinese, Japanese, Korean) have a skin that comes off easily, and they MAY be good to eat raw, or not. Our hybrids are all easy to skin and quite delicious raw; we have several customers who wouldn't eat them any other way. Folks who've only eaten European Chestnuts don't believe it until they've experienced our hybrids.
Chestnuts EXPLODE! if cooked without being pierced or halved first! Steam will build up inside the sealed nut, causing them to detonate like popcorn, only they just make a big mess.
Before cooking, always take a paring knife and make a simple, deep cut all the way through the "tail" end of each nut. This will allow the steam to escape harmlessly. We usually make that cut at an angle—not parallel to the nut axis. This is because some of the nuts will have two (or more) actual nuts inside one shell, and each one is capable of exploding if unpierced. The Joy of Cooking recommends piercing with a fork, which is also an improvement on the very laborious but often forcefully demanded "cutting an X on the flat side" process (you don't have to).
The shells and skins peel easily off a warm, cooked nut, especially when using our new plier-peeling method on parboiled halves. If you are processing a lot of nuts and they cool before you can get them all skinned, just put them back to re-warm; the skins will slip easily again. Chestnuts hold heat very well—learning to juggle hot nuts and avoid burning is part of the experience.
They can be simply eaten out of hand after roasting or precooked to varying degrees before mixing in stuffing or other dishes. Surprise, surprise: Smaller nuts cook faster. Large nuts can be easily halved, quartered, or chopped when mostly cooked; chopping raw nuts is tricky, as they can jump away from you.
- Cooking & eating fresh Chestnuts
- Recipes from Badgersett Farm: Recipes we've developed using our Hazelnuts and Chestnuts
- Storing & handling fresh Chestnuts