I have been out foraging again, this time for chestnuts.
The chestnuts we had the other day with our first batch of Brussels Sprouts of the year were just so good that I felt inspired to go out and get some more - a lot more. This time I collected about 1200g:
I hadn't expected the chestnuts to be very good this year, because I thought the nuts might not have swollen much during the very hot Summer, but I was wrong. They are very good. And I have chosen the right time to collect them too. We had some strong winds a couple of days ago and lots of the chestnuts fell off the trees. This means that they have not been lying on the ground for long, falling prey to insect infestation or rotting.
Chestnuts are not difficult to prepare. My method is this: put the chestnuts in a saucepan and fill with enough water to cover them. Bring to the boil and turn off the heat. By the time they have cooled down enough to be comfortable to handle, the outer skins will have become soft and piable, making it easy to peel them.
Here is the end result:
Once you have removed the outer dark brown husk, the chestnuts still have an inner skin which is soft and a little fuzzy.
|Inner skin left on|
If you have the patience to do so you can remove this skin too, but I don't (it is a BIG pfaff) and I leave the skin on. I find that it is actually beneficial to do so because it helps stop them breaking up when you cook them.
|Inner skin removed|
Having been only very briefly boiled these chestnuts are of course not cooked, so you need to cook them somehow. We generally use them mostly as an accompaniment to Brussels Sprouts and it is convenient that they take about the same time to cook, so you can just add them into the pan of sprouts. They are also good in a beef or venison casserole, cooked long and slow. In a dish like that the chestnuts do tend to break up a bit, but that's no bad thing because they act as a thickening agent - a bit like adding cornflour- in fact you can make a type of flour with chestnuts.
Chestnuts are also often roasted, but when you roast them you don't parboil them like I have described, you leave the outer skins intact. Actually it is a good idea to make a small cut in each one to let the expanding air out during cooking. If you don't pierce the skins they are very prone to exploding in the oven!
My final thought on the matter of chestnuts is this: make sure you don't confuse the edilble "Sweet Chestnut" with the inedble "Horse Chestnut" aka "Conker".
This is the Sweet Chestnut:
And this is the Horse Chestnut. Leaves are different, seed-pods are different, but the nuts are superficially similar. The nut of the Chestnut has a pointed tip, but the Conker doesn't.