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My Chestnut Pains

Louise Hendon | November 1
Paleo chestnuts

I grew up eating a lot of chestnuts, but I’d never had the misfortune of cooking them myself…before last night.

See, here’s the thing. It’s autumn in NYC, and I feel like chestnuts should be the perfect snack at this time of year. After all, every street cart I walk by is selling them.

So what could be more natural than trying to cook them myself.

Ok, I’ll take a bit of blame here – I should have known that something would go wrong when I read review after review of other people who were unable to peel their chestnuts! In fact, the only reviews in which people were able to successfully peel the chestnuts ended with comments about how un-fresh they were!

I thought – very wrongly – that by trying three different methods for cooking the chestnuts, I’d be sure to hit upon one that worked well. I was more than a tad too optimistic this time.

Everything I read said to cut a cross into the chestnuts to prevent them from exploding (perhaps the only thing that didn’t go wrong in this experiment) and supposedly to make it easier to peel (hah!), and so I made sure to do this, although I swear I thought I was going to lop off a finger with every saw of my knife (I did not have the pairing knife websites called for)!

roasting chestnuts

Then, I separated the chestnuts into three piles. One for roasting in the oven, one for boiling, and one for roasting in the pan.

ways of cooking chestnuts

Each method worked tolerably well for cooking the insides of the chestnut. Unfortunately, I can’t really make any positive comments about any of the methods making it easier to get at the edible portions of each chestnut!

The oven roasting seemed to dry the chestnuts out some, whereas boiling seemed to keep the moisture in better without disintegrating the insides. The pan roasting also worked ok (I added a small amount of water into the pan near the end and kept the lid on in order to steam it a bit). The water definitely helps to soften the shell some, which made the pan roasted and boiled chestnuts easier to peel (slightly).

roasted peeled chestnuts

So what’s the story of the peeling catastrophe? Simply that no matter how hard I tried, the shell just wouldn’t come off! I tried crushing the shell slightly with a warm towel to loosen it, and I also made sure to peel while it was still hot (to the dismay of my poor burnt fingers). This was all advice I had picked up online; advice that should have made me realize early on that the chances of success were going to be slim!

If you haven’t undergone this ordeal before, let me tell you that it isn’t that hard shell on the outside of the chestnut that causes the problem. It’s this thinner inner shell that sticks on like glue, tucking itself into every fold and crook on the chestnut so that the removal of each piece of this inner shell caused the chestnut to disintegrate bit by bit at an infinitesimally slow speed. (Caution: Do not try to do this when hungry!) At one point, I was so frustrated that I tested out eating the chestnut with this inside shell on. But take my advice, that shell definitely takes a great deal of enjoyment away from eating chestnuts.

half peeled chestnuts

Don’t worry, my ramble is nearly at an end. In the end, I did manage to get a few chestnuts peeled with the insides fairly intact, and I have to say that they did taste quite delicious. In fact, they were so delicious that I was tempted several times to go and peel some more. However, the pain of my poor bleeding thumb quickly made me stop each time.

peeled chestnuts

I know what you’re thinking right now, and I’m quite sure that you are right – people have had peelable chestnuts before, and I’m sure there’s some secret that I’m missing, whether it be buying less fresh produce, peeling it while it’s hotter, grilling them on an open flame, or some other equally ‘appealing’ option. But for me, I’m going to call it quits as to chestnut peeling, well, at least for this autumn.

Karen - November 20

Louise, I haven’t had chestnuts since the 1960s, when my parents used to roast them over flames in our fireplace. I don’t remember having trouble getting them out of the shells. Maybe that’s the best way to do it. I saw some at the store last week and maybe I should buy some and give it a try.

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