When I was at the store the other day picking up the ingredients for my Smoking Bishop punch, I happened to stumble across some chestnuts as well. It occurred to me that figuring out how to roast them would be another fun holiday experiment, so I bought a bagful and decided to do just that.
I did a little homework first though. I had roasted chestnuts once a long while ago, but I don't really know much about them as a food. I also really had no clue what the best method was for cooking these to perfection. I wanted tasty, delectable, crowd-pleasing holiday snacks for my trouble... not fail-chestnuts. God bless the internet, because there were plenty of chestnut triumphs (and failures) out there for me to read about from bloggers who once had the same bright idea I did.
The first order of business is to score your chestnuts with a serrated knife. If you don't, they will actually explode. One other blogger actually left one of her chestnuts unscored just to tempt fate and see what would happen and she said it was like a shotgun went off in her kitchen when that thing finally blew. She also said her stove was a nightmare to clean afterwards... and that was just from one chestnut bomb. I don't even want to think about a whole batch of them.
The chestnuts will have both a flat surface and a rounded surface. Some people score an "X" into the flat surface of the chestnut. Others score the shell in a straight line across the rounded surface. I read a lot of complaints about how difficult the "X" chestnuts were to shell afterwards though, so I personally went for the straight line. Whichever method you decide on, use a serrated knife and slice deep enough to score all the way through the shell. It's OK if you cut the nut a little bit. Just make sure you get through the shell.
It seemed like there was some debate as to whether or not to parboil or soak the chestnuts before roasting them in the oven. However, it seemed like the general consensus out there was that including that step results in plumper, juicier, all-around better chestnuts that are more like the really good kind you get from the chestnut street vendors in New York. To be honest, the pictures of the chestnuts that weren't done that way looked really unappetizing, while the pre-boiled ones looked amazing, so it was an easy decision for me.
Place your chestnuts in a saucepan and add enough water to cover them. Put it on medium-low heat. When the water gets to the point where it's simmering, your chestnuts have soaked long enough and it's time to transfer them to the oven. Feel free to preheat it to 425 while the soaking process is going on.
Your chestnuts may be starting to open along their scores by the time they come out of the hot water. Arrange them on a baking sheet score side up and then pop them into the oven for about 20 minutes and let them make your kitchen smell amazing. When they're done, they'll be really open like in the picture above. These chestnuts also look just as plump and delicious as I expected them to, so I really think the soaking step paid off. Let your chestnuts rest under a clean towel for at least 5 minutes or so. Then you can start shelling them.
Most of the shells came off really easily. Overall, I didn't seem to have any of the trouble some people had with theirs. I wound up with a lot of beautiful whole chestnuts like you see above. Some really stuck to the shells and came out in more than one piece, but they were still really good. A lot of that just has to do with how individual nuts are, so don't stress if they don't all come out perfect. Shell all of your nuts at one time though, because once they start cooling off, it's not so easy.
The texture of these was really similar to a baked potato or a baked yam. The flesh tasted slightly sweet, starchy and pleasant. I did eat some of mine with a little olive oil and salt, but they were honestly very good plain as well. I imagine these would be awesome in some kind of stuffing or side dish for sure, so if you're looking for a way to spice up your next batch of Stove Top or something, this would be a great addition to consider.
It turns out chestnuts are hella nutritious, too. They're a complex carbohydrate with a low glycemic index. They're also high in both potassium and Vitamin C while being low in fat, cholesterol and sodium. These would make a great addition to even strict diets, so they're certainly a holiday treat anyone can enjoy. I will definitely be making them again in the future.