Selecting fresh chestnuts for roasting and cooking is pretty simple. Look for ones that have no cracks in them and have smooth shiny shells. They should also be heavy for their size and should all about the same size so they cook evenly. Make sure the shells are firm when you squeeze them, too. An important note to keep in mind is that 1/2 pound of raw, uncooked chestnuts will equal about 1 cup of shelled chestnuts.
Chestnuts don't last for too long when they're raw, so you should buy them when you know you will be using them right away. If you are storing them for a day or two, keep them in a zip-top plastic bag, poking a few holes in it, and keep them in the refrigerator or in another cool, dry place.
To perfectly roast chestnuts every time, just follow a few simple instructions: First, wipe them off with a clean cloth and cut an X on the rounded side of the nut. Then, arrange them, cut side up in a baking pan and roast them in a 425 degree F oven for 20 to 30 minutes. This may take some trial and error so, after 20 minutes, remove one chestnut, let it cool, and try to peel it. If it peels easily, they are finished, if the skin sticks, keep roasting them. You know chestnuts are finished when they peel easily. If you are using them right away, you can peel them all once they cool, otherwise, peel them as you eat them.
Chestnuts can be used in both savory and sweet recipes. They work wonderfully in stuffing, rice, and pasta dishes, or in soups and stews. They also taste delicious when paired with meats like pork, duck, turkey, goose, seafood like shellfish and salmon, and can be added to many sauces and sides. A favorite of mine is a delicious fall inspired mashed potato dish with chestnuts and fall spices like nutmeg and cinnamon. One of the great things about chestnuts is that you can build an entire meal around them as they are great as the centerpiece of the meal and as supporting flavors. For example, you can start off with a chestnut soup, then move on to a roast pork loin with chestnut sauce, then finish up with a chestnut cheesecake. They even work in breads (cornbread and muffins), breakfast items like pancakes, and desserts like cookies, cakes, and tarts. Just about any dish you use other nuts in, chestnuts can be used instead.
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