Food and Drink

   

In Season: Chestnuts

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Preparing chestnuts can be one of those great social experiences associated with cooking, drawing together family members – like shelling broad beans, turning pasta dough into shapes or making wontons.

Most of our chestnuts are grown in the higher regions of Victoria, and can be found in shops from March to July. They are gluten, fat and cholesterol free, and low GI. Long a staple of the poor of Europe, especially before the introduction of potatoes, their time-consuming preparation had seen them fall out of favour, but the recent development of varieties that are easier to peel has seen their popularity increase.

Always a gastronomical favourite, their culinary uses vary widely from soups, appetisers, garnishes, vegetables, desserts and confectionery to being ground into flour for cakes. So finding a great recipe is fairly easy, perhaps the biggest barrier is their preparation.

Straight from the tree chestnuts have a prickly outer shell that demands gloves. Fortunately some kind person does this for us before they get to the market, and we just need to remove the brown inner skin.

First step is to make a slit in the skin, down one side, from top to bottom, using a sharp knife (skip this step and you’ll be entertained by exploding chestnuts splattering all over your kitchen). Next, boil for 15 minutes, or roast for 20 minutes at 180°. They must be skinned while still hot, so you need to take them out of the hot water one at a time to peel away the skin. If roasting, wrap them in a towel to keep them hot. Then they are ready for using according to your recipe.

Some of the great ways to enjoy the flavour of chestnuts include glazing them in reduced home-made chicken or veal stock as a garnish for hearty winter dishes; caramelising in reduced sugar syrup for an after dinner treat; coating with chocolate; or pureeing for use in desserts – especially the classic ‘Mont Blanc’.

For an easy first try gently simmer skinned chestnuts until tender, and toss with boiled Brussels sprouts in butter and sauteed onion, for a surprisingly satisfying combination. Or simply roasted and hot straight from the oven will seem like a connection to simpler times.


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