We have the Romans to thank for Britain's abundance of Sweet Chestnut trees – they highly rated chestnuts as a cookery ingredient and rightly so. These beautiful, shiny nuts are wonderfully versatile and, in spite of what the name may suggest, they are equally at home in sweet or savoury dishes.
For those who enjoy gathering their food from the wild, you can find them throughout autumn. A good technique for freeing the nuts from their sharp-needled shells is to use your foot (with shoe!) to 'press and roll' over the nuts and they should pop out easily.
Get more tips in our beginner's guide to foraging.
Where to buy chestnuts
The chestnut season is brief, but whole peeled chestnuts, either canned or vacuum-packed, are available from major supermarkets.
Dried chestnuts are also available from health food stores, but must be soaked in water overnight then simmered before use. 450g fresh chestnuts (weighed in their shells) are equivalent to 175g dried, reconstituted chestnuts, or 350g tinned or vacuum-packed nuts.
Canned chestnut purée, plain or sweetened, is a godsend as it saves hours of preparation. You can make an unusual (but very easy) ice cream by stirring together whipping cream, icing sugar and a tin of sweetened chestnut purée.
Chestnut flour, made from dried ground chestnuts, is worth seeking out from larger supermarkets, specialist food shops and delicatessens. The pale brown flour has an unusual but pleasant smoky flavour and is gluten-free and nutritious. You can use it as a thickener for soups and stews or to make tasty breads, pancakes, fritters and cakes. Chestnut flour doesn't keep well, but can be frozen, well wrapped, until needed.
How to cook chestnuts
Fresh chestnuts must always be cooked before use and are never eaten raw, owing to their tannic acid content.
You need to remove the chestnuts from their skins by either boiling or roasting them. For both options, first make a small incision in the skin or you'll have a house full of chestnut shrapnel as they will explode. If cooking over an open fire, keep one whole as when this explodes you know the others are done (not a method for the overly house proud!).
Once cooked, peel off the tough shell and the papery thin skin underneath. Peel the nuts whilst hot (it's impossible to peel a cold chestnut!) to ensure the complete removal of the inner brown furry skin, called the 'tan', which is bitter.
We've got plenty of inspiration for cooking chestnuts in a range of sweet and savoury meals...
Top 10 chestnut recipe ideas
In savoury dishes, chestnuts are the epitome of earthy, rustic cooking and can be used in a variety of ways to provide a deep, nutty flavour. Cook them in stuffing, pasta and rice dishes, soups and stews, or as a purée instead of mashed potato.
1. Chestnut stuffing
There is the traditional chestnut, bacon & cranberry stuffing, or for an impressive centrepiece, serve the stuffing in a roll, wrapped in flavourful bacon rashers. If you're short on space in the oven, this other chestnut stuffing roll is conveniently designed to fit in alongside a roasting tin.
2. Roast dinners
Chestnuts are a very welcome accompaniment to a roast dinner. They can be cooked whole alongside meat, as with our roast guinea fowl dish and they pair perfectly with Christmas sprouts. For a vegetarian alternative, team chestnuts with parsnips in this modern take on a nut loaf or serve them in a stunning savoury cake packed with butternut squash and lentils. To make an impressive Christmas main, we also recommend combining them with kale into a thick purée and stuffing the centre of a whole roast cauliflower.
3. Veggie pastries
Bulk up your veggie centrepieces with soft and crumbly chestnuts. They provide some festive flavour alongside butternut squash in these pretty pastry crackers. They also make up a mouth-watering meat-free filling in our picnic-perfect vegetarian sausage rolls, alongside mushrooms, leeks and cheese. Or combine with tangy cranberry sauce, sweet potato and sage in this vegan filo parcel which is super easy to make and packs in lots of flavour.
4. Chestnut pasta
These delicious nuts are not only suitable for festive occasions, but make a welcome addition to hearty pasta dishes which you can whip up for a midweek family meal, such as Italian sausage & chestnut pasta or for a weekend project try pappardelle with rabbit & chestnut ragu. They also pair well with mushrooms and herbs in this simple veggie pasta recipe.
5. Chestnut risotto
Chestnuts are great for adding texture to risottos. Our indulgent mushroom & chestnut pearl barley risotto is the definition of comfort in a bowl, with creamy ricotta cheese. Or, if you want something lighter, try this healthy roasted squash, pancetta & chestnut risotto.
6. Soups and stews
Chilly winter nights are always improved with a bowl of comfort food. This venison sausage & chestnut casserole is the perfect make-ahead dinner party main, enriched with a red wine sauce and served with creamy mash. Or for something simpler, blitz together roasted chestnuts with cauliflower to make a luxurious veggie soup – the perfect starter or lunch.
The texture of the cooked nuts means they can be a very useful alternative to flour in desserts as they can be blitzed in a food processor into a fine crumb, or used to make smooth purées.
7. Chocolate & chestnut torte
Chocolate and chestnuts are a heavenly combination; the French celebrate this with bûche de Noël, a chocolate log filled with a chestnut purée served at Christmas. Mary Cadogan's chestnut truffle cake and our chocolate & chestnut truffle torte make satisfyingly silky and indulgent centrepieces for a festive gathering.
8. Mont Blanc
To make an impressive Mont Blanc cake, thick chestnut purée cream is piped between alternating layers of chocolate sponge and meringue. This towering dessert is the ultimate festive showstopper. However, if you are short on time you could also make these mini Mont Blancs for easy bite-sized finger food.
9. Chestnut roulade
Stun your guests with this easy, make-ahead chestnut & amaretto roulade. Chestnut purée is incorporated into the sponge which is wrapped around a boozy cream centre, flavoured with amaretto liqueur. Don’t worry if it cracks – it’s part of the charm!
10. Frozen chestnut parfait
This freeze-ahead chocolate & chestnut parfait is simply packed with festive flavours and makes a stress-free Christmas dessert. The rich, silky chestnut purée and chocolate balance well with zingy orange, while amaretti biscuits provide a crunchy texture in this irresistible frozen dessert.
Try these other delicious chestnut desserts:
You can also find plenty more recipes in our chestnut collection.
How often do you include chestnuts in your cooking? Leave a comment below...