OKAY, so I’m not going to teach you how to roast chestnuts on an open fire, I’m going to teach you how to do it on your stove and in your oven. But — full disclosure — I have a Christmas carol problem, in that I really like Christmas carols way more than most people. Every single year I see chestnuts on sale at the grocery and EVERY SINGLE YEAR I buy them because I forget that I can’t cook and that life isn’t Christmas carols. It’s like candy corn on Halloween: complete amnesia from the previous year. But you guys, I love roasted chestnuts. And I know, I live in New York and could really just go out and buy chestnuts from a cart. But those carts also sell hot dogs and I’m a vegetarian and I’m always afraid I’m going to accidentally eat hot dog chestnuts. So, because I can’t cook and because I love chestnuts, I always pick a really easy recipe for roasted chestnuts — a variation on this recipe. First rule: don’t cut off your fingers. Those do not go well in homemade roasted chestnuts.
+ One pound of chestnuts (this is actually not very many chestnuts. Chestnuts are heavy.)
+ Sea salt to taste
+ Brown sugar to taste
+ 1/4 stick of butter (because I do not mess around)
+ A cast iron pan, or another pan that can go from the stovetop to the oven
+ A baking sheet. Cover it in tin foil to make clean up easy.
+ A Very Sharp Knife
Preheat your oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.
First cut an x shape into each chestnut. Some recipes say to do this on the flat side, but I believe this to be a physical impossibility. This part is the most difficult part of this recipe and it involves sharp things, so go with the round side of the chestnut and leave the flat side down on the cutting board so that it doesn’t run away while you’re chopping. Real talk: chestnuts are hard. And I don’t mean in skill level, I mean their shells are hard, so cutting them is a culinary adventure. I have two techniques depending on the nut (each nut is a special snowflake with its own shell personality). I find that using the tip of the knife to create a hole/weakness in the shell and then slicing an x works for most of the more difficult nuts. For the easier ones, just place the knife on the nut and slice in a boat-rocking motion, front to back.
Why cut an x in the shells at all, you ask? Because if you don’t, science will make the chestnuts explode in your oven. This is not a thing you want, and if you have already discovered this the hard way please feel free to share the stories of this moment with me. We could create a support group. Make sure to puncture the shells all the way through, or science will say that you did not do this well enough and it will still make the chestnuts explode in your oven.
Next, pop these suckers in the oven for 25 minutes (this is where that baking sheet comes in.) The shells will open up like flowers. This is the most satisfying part of this culinary adventure because it’s pretty. Remember this while you’re completing the next step.
When you take the chestnuts out of the oven, let them cool for a few minutes. As soon as you possibly can without burning yourself too too badly, peel the chestnuts. The longer the nuts cool, the harder it is to peel them. So try to find that sweet spot between scalding and room temperature that will still allow you to have sensation in your fingers when you’re finished.
Put your peeled chestnuts in a pan with the 1/4 stick of butter and sauté them until they’re good and coated. Salt the surface of the chestnuts and toss them around a little. Move the entire pan to the oven and sprinkle the top of the nuts with brown sugar. Leave these in the oven until a) the nuts are golden brown and/or b) the brown sugar is all nice and melty without being gross and burny. These globs of awesome melty brown sugar are going to intersperse themselves throughout your salty chestnuts.
The result? A salty-sweet dichotomy of non-hotdoggy nuts. These aren’t pretty to eat, so provide guests with a fork or skewer of some kind when serving them. Still have all your fingers? Good, me too.