I think I have a rather odd (and occasionally useless) memory. I can remember the oddest facts like my high school ID number, the license plate numbers and birthdates of two of my former coworkers (that may sound weird and stalkerish but I had to know them for one of my responsibilities at work), exactly what I was doing and who I was with on 3/12/2008, and what my former roommate’s favorite color is. I can remember a lot of not extremely helpful details but for some reason I can never quite remember the more important things in life like where I put my keys or the name of my coworker I talk to several times a day.
As a young child I remember eating roasted chestnuts every year around the holidays. There was a street vendor that sold them in downtown Seattle and every year we would get some and it was something that I always looked forward to. That being said, I haven’t had chestnuts in over 15 years and I had zero recollection of what they looked like or tasted like. While a detail like that may be forgotten by many, I’m a total detail guy and almost always remember, vividly, the taste and texture of something I ate two decades ago. I could tell you all about the sauce I had with salmon on my 5th birthday.
While part of me was frustrated I couldn’t remember anything about chestnuts, besides always loving them, it was almost fun having no recollection because when I made them recently it was like having them for the first time. It was such a new and unique experience.
For those of you who haven’t experienced the awesomeness of chestnuts, let me tell you. For starters, they look like little yellowish/tan/orangeish brains once you peel them. Pecans kind of look like brains, but they’re so brown and I’m used to seeing them; chestnuts kind of scared me. You’ll also want to be sure to peel them quickly as the second they started to cool the shells became almost impossible to take off, and I kept finding little bits that clung to the flesh of the nut. And then there was the taste and texture (sweeter and softer than a normal nut), which were enjoyable but unexpected. While I may not be making a compelling case for my readers to roast chestnuts, you totally should, because your house will smell divine, and it feels so Christmasy and festive, especially if you roast them on an open fire (which sadly, I didn’t).
While you could eat roasted chestnuts right out of the shell and be perfectly satisfied, I think you’ll be even more pleased if you added them to stuffing (or dressing). They have a meaty, sweet taste that is unlike any other nut I’ve had and the texture is soft and it has an almost smooth consistency. I served my chestnut stuffing with roast duck, but I think this would pair nicely with turkey, goose, pork, or beef.
Adapted from Ted Allen
- 1/2 pound fresh chestnuts
- A large baguette (or bread of your choice), torn or cubed in small pieces (approximately 8-10 cups)
- 1/3 lb pancetta, thinly sliced and diced, diced (bacon could also work)
- 1/2 stick unsalted butter, plus more for greasing baking dish
- 1 large yellow onion, chopped
- 2 celery ribs, chopped
- 3 garlic cloves, finely minced
- 1 1/2 to 2 cups chicken or turkey stock (I used 1 1/2 cups, but use more or less if you like softer or crispier stuffing)
- 1/4 cup fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves, finely chopped
- 1/4 cup fresh sage leaves, finely chopped
- 1 tablespoon finely chopped rosemary
- 1 tablespoon finely chopped thyme
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 2 large eggs, lightly beaten
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.
Cut an X into the round end of each chestnut, place on a rimmed baking sheet, put in the oven and roast for approximately 15-20 minutes. Once done, the shells should peel back where cut and expose the flesh of the nut. Let cool for a minute or two, and then peel while the chestnuts are still warm. Chop coarsely. If you let the nuts get too cool and find the shells too hard to peel, throw them back in the oven for a few more minutes to warm up; this should make the process easier.
Decrease the oven temperature to 350 degrees F. Spread the cubed bread on a baking sheet and bake until dry and golden, about 15 minutes. Put in a large bowl with the chestnuts.
Meanwhile, in a large sautee pan, over medium heat, cook pancetta until slightly browned and beginning to get crispy. Add onion and cook until translucent (approximately 6 minutes). Pour into chestnut and bread mixture. Using the same pan, now empty, melt butter and add celery and garlic; cook for a few minutes (you could cook longer to make the celery soft, but I enjoy it when it’s still crunch). Add to chestnut and bread mixture.
Stir in the chicken stock, parsley, sage, rosemary, thyme, salt, pepper, and eggs. Mix well. Spoon into a buttered 3-quart baking dish and bake, covered, for 30 minutes. Uncover and bake until browned, about 30 minutes.