Sweet chestnuts are a winter favourite, a tradition, and a danger. If you don’t know how to cook them properly you can injure yourself as they can explode!
Having said that they are really easy and safe to cook if you follow a few simple guidelines. They are also well worth it for chestnut lovers everywhere.
Sweet chestnuts are readily available in most shops when they are in season. In the UK the season starts from mid-October through to the end of December (possibly January) which isn’t soon enough for me.
They may not be available in the shops at the start of the season. The height of the season is, of course, December ready for the holidays.
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How Not to Cook Sweet Chestnuts
There’s nothing quite like the simple pleasure of walking around the late night shops just before Christmas holidays, wrapped tightly against the cold holding a bag of freshly roasted sweet chestnuts and a cup of mulled wine in your hands. (Although trying to eat one and drink the other while wearing gloves can be a bit of a challenge). Of course, these are already cooked for you. I did this for years before braving cooking them again after my first experience with them.
Having listened to my dad’s tales of the man who cooked a tin of beans while camping without punching a hole in the tin lid and the tin exploding and how dangerous it is you would think I’d have gotten the message and learned from it.
Beans in tins yes, chestnuts no.
In my youth, I eagerly opened my pack of newly purchased chestnuts, placed them in the oven with no idea how long they took to cook and waited. And waited. Occasionally I opened the oven to check them. Noises came from the oven so I opened it to check. As the door opened something flew at me at speed. It smashed into the edge of my eye, barely missing it. A few millimeters to the left and I could have lost an eye.
In my eagerness to have chestnuts, I had overlooked one VERY IMPORTANT fact, the reason you have crosses scored into your chestnuts isn’t only to make them easier to open, it is to stop them exploding. Duh, so obvious now, but clearly not back then. After moaning about it to my family it turned out I was the only one that didn’t know this.
Now, even though my chestnuts are neatly scored I always open the oven tentatively.
So on to how you should cook your chestnuts.
How to Cook Chestnuts in an Oven Without Becoming a Pirate
Quick and easy sweet chestnuts
Place your chestnuts onto a firm surface flat side down.
Carefully score your chestnuts with a knife in a cross shape along one side. Make sure you cut deep enough to cut open the skin. You can use a chestnut knife if you have one (see below). This allows the moisture to escape and to stops the nuts exploding (saving your eyes) and helps you eat them later as they are easier to open.
Place them on a baking tray with the flat sides down (crosses up).
Place them into the oven and cook for approximately 20-30 minutes at 220 C (200C fan or 180C Halogen oven). When they are ready the crosses will open up and peel back slightly.
Make it Easier, Use a Chestnut Knife
Chestnut Knifes Make cutting chestnuts quicker, easier and much safer. These are well worth getting if you plan on cooking a lot of chestnuts. If like me you only plan on having a bag or two then it probably isn’t worth it.
How to Cook Chestnuts on an Open Fire
For those people lucky enough to have an open fire this is a fantastic way to cook chestnuts. This is how we used to have them when I was a child. They’d either be cooked in the front room where we had an open fire or on the Rayburn top.
There’s nothing like the rich warm glow of a real fire and the slightly blacked parts of the nut where the heat has darkened it. Digging into the flesh and burning your fingers because you won’t wait for them to cool down.
Chestnut Roasting Pan for an Open Fire
We definitely didn’t have one of these roasting pans. They are a great idea. I distinctly remember Dad going up to the fire (we weren’t allowed as too dangerous) and picking them up with his fingers. They were scolding hot. There was a lot of swearing as I recall, lol.
One of these pans would make it so much easier. They would make it safer as the long handle means you don’t have to get too close to the fire. It would also save burnt fingers and (possibly) the swearing!
The instructions are pretty much the same as for oven roasting.
Instructions on How to Cook Chestnuts on an Open Fire
Place your chestnuts onto a firm surface facing their flat side down and curved up.
Carefully cut your chestnuts skins with a knife in a cross shape along the curved side. You can use a chestnut knife if you have one (see above). This is the safest method of cooking them without the explosions mentioned above.
Place them on to your long handled roasting pan with the flat sides down.
Put your pan into the fire making sure it will not tip over and cook until the crosses have opened up and the nuts are a lovely golden brown. The time frame is a matter of just waiting as it will depend on your fire.