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
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
2. Roast dinners
3. Veggie pastries
4. Chestnut pasta
5. Chestnut risotto
6. Soups and stews
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
8. Mont Blanc
9. Chestnut roulade
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…