The humble sweet chestnut not to be confused with the horse chestnut or conker is far more popular in France than it is in England and they are an essential ingredient in many French recipes often used in savoury dishes, desserts and confectionary.
GatheringRope in the kids and enjoy a family day out in one of France's beautiful forests, take some gardening gloves to save your hands from the prickles and collect only the fallen chestnuts. The ripe chestnuts are the ones in which the prickly green outer husks have started to split, you can gather some un-split ones but you'll need to spread them out at home on paper in a dry airy place for a few days until they've split open.
Choose nuts that are shiny and free from blemishes, avoid using any nuts that are cracked or shrivelled. Once chestnuts have started to dry out they will loose their flavour, a good tip is to rattle the shells and if you hear movement you know that they are drying out inside.
Hot Roast Chestnuts1) Heat the oven to 200c/Gas mark 6 2) For best results (saves exploding nuts) pierce each chestnut first then using a sharp knife cut and X shape on the flat side of each nut, making sure that you have cut into the flesh. Place in a roasting pan and bake until the skins have opened and the inside of the nuts are soft - approx half an hour.
In France the Chestnut tree is called the Chataignier and its fruit the chestnuts are called Chataigne or Marrons. Chestnuts must never be eaten raw as uncooked they contain high quantities of tannin and so would give you serious digestive discomfort.
PreservingYou can easily preserve chestnuts through the winter, after removing them from their green prickly husks make sure they are perfectly dry then place them in a wooden box or barrel between layers of dry fine sand much like the method used to preserve carrots. Once full store the box in a cool dry place. If still in their shells fresh chestnuts will keep in the salad drawer of the fridge for up to a month. Cooked chestnuts can be frozen whole or pureed and used in many recipes, try adding whole chestnuts to dishes like braised Pork or use them pureed to make delicious tasting stuffing's. Chestnuts can also be dried and ground up into a flour and used for making pastas, pancakes or used in baking.
Marrons Glaces1 kg Fresh Chestnuts
500 g sugar
1 litre of water
A vanilla bean (optional)
1) Firstly remove the hard outer chestnut skins by putting the whole chestnuts in to a pan of cold water and bringing to the boil for 3 minutes. This will soften them making them easy to peel.
2) Cook the chestnuts by placing them back in the pan with some fresh water this time adding a pinch of salt and boil them for around 20 minutes. Then leave the chestnuts to stand in the water for a further 5 minutes.
3) Remove them from the pan one at a time and carefully remove the second thin inner skin of the chestnuts, take some care not to damage the soft nuts.
4) Next place the chestnuts in a shallow frying pan.
5) Dissolve the sugar and water in a separate pot over a low heat. Add the Vanilla bean and allow to simmer while gently stirring until the syrup thickens a little.
6) Pour the syrup over the chestnuts and simmer them gently on a low heat for about half an hour. Turn the heat off and let them steep in the pan for 10 - 20 minutes.
7) Serve the chestnuts with some of their syrup poured over them on their own or with whipped cream & brandy. Bon Appetite!
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The nights are drawing in and there's that crisp chill of autumn in the air, it's the perfect time of year to enjoy "chestnuts roasting by an open fire" or for a...