A couple weeks ago I was lucky enough to have my friend Maggie come by for a visit. She’s a stylist and seamstress, a bit of a jack of all trades, and she makes clothing and weavings in Tennessee. She was traveling through the west coast to set up shop at a few holiday markets, and lucky for me she decided to stop in Portland for a couple days. Since we both love food, and I was on a Christmas-themed activity spree that began with knitting wrapping for my gifts and ended with me making three different types of eggnog, we decided to make some roasted chestnuts together. Neither of us had made or eaten them before, so I read a lot about them online beforehand, researching the different preparation methods and tips for getting them to peel. What I didn’t realize until we started making them, however, is that chestnuts actually have a thick skin underneath the shell that you *also* have to get off.
So, there’s the semi-glossy dark brown hard shell on the outside of the nut that you can see when you buy whole chestnuts from the store. But underneath that is a papery skin that is stuck onto the chestnut, which you need to get off before eating because unlike almond skins, it’s thick enough to where it has a really unpleasant texture to it. For us, getting the hard shell off post-roasting was easy, but getting the papery shell off was a lot trickier. About one fifth of the chestnuts were not parting with their skins very easily, so we learned some tips and tricks for getting them to come off, which I’m including in the recipe below.
Once all the skins and shells were off, however, the roasted chestnuts had *the most* gorgeous golden hue, which was accented by how shimmery they were from all the melted butter they were roasted in. It was almost like we had a bunch of beautiful golden kernels all to ourselves! It was glorious. And the taste…my word. It’s hard to describe, but they have a very slightly sweet flavor and are very dense and soft for a nut. They have a lot of starch in them and are lower in fat and protein than most nuts, which gives them an almost potato-y texture inside, but quite firmer than a roasted potato, if that makes sense. Starchy, slightly sweet, fluffy, and nutty…you just have to try them. I promise you won’t regret it.
Take a small sharp knife (pocket knives and utility knives work too) and cut an x into the flat side of each chestnut, piercing the shell.
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit. Place a medium cold pot of water over medium heat and add the chestnuts. Bring the pot of water to a boil and cook for 2 minutes. Drain through a colander and then pat the chestnuts dry.
Place a large sheet of tin foil on a rimmed baking sheet. Empty the chestnuts onto the tin foil, keeping them in one flat layer towards the center of the tin foil sheet so you have several inches of space around them. Drizzle them with the melted butter and honey and sprinkle them with the sea salt and sage leaves. Place the rosemary sprigs on the foil as well, then fold the extra foil edges over the chestnuts and herbs, touching the edges of the foil together but leaving a little opening for steam to escape.
Place the pan in the oven and roast until the edges of the scored x mark start to curl up and the chestnuts are cooked through, about 30 to 45 minutes depending on the size of the chestnuts. Remove and allow to cool for 5 minutes before handling.
The nuts will still be very hot, but the skin and shell will come off easier while the nuts are still warm so you need to work quickly. To keep from burning yourself on the hot nuts, use a clean rag to hold each one. Pick one up from the pan, squeeze it slightly to help loosen the skin, then peel off the shell and skin. If you have a hard time getting the skin off, try squeezing the nut gently again, taking care not to squeeze it so hard that the nut crumbles. Repeat until all of the chestnuts are shelled and skinned. Drizzle with the pan drippings and diced fresh rosemary and toss to coat. Serve immediately.