Sunday, October 21, 2007

Chestnut Conundrum

One of the things I bought at the farmer's market yesterday was chestnuts, a quart for $2. I have no idea if this is a good price or not, having little experience with chestnuts aside from snacking on a few raw that I've gathered in the woods. However, being slightly obsessed with chestnuts, I just couldn't pass them by. I am a huge sucker at the farmer's market.

It wasn't the first time I couldn't resist the allure of the chestnut though... several years back, I bought a very pricey jar and tried to follow an enclosed recipe for roasted brussel sprouts with chestnuts. Moral of the story: never try new recipes at Thanksgiving dinner. Everyone smiled politely, but the recipe was dismal, at least the chestnut portion. It was a huge disappointment for me. The brussel sprouts were actually pretty good, though.

So this afternoon, with my lazy weekend, I turned to The Joy of Cooking to see what to do with my chestnuts. There was no recipe for roasted chestnuts, and precious few choices at all, so I opted for the chestnut puree. I scored each chestnut with an x on the flat side, and boiled them briefly as directed, then proceeded to pull them out and shell them, tossing the few wormy specimens out the window for the squirrels. This process took me over an hour.

Then I still had to boil them again, this time longer, for 30-45 minutes. The book suggested boiling them in milk for a sweet presentation, or in broth for a savory dish. Not having any milk, I went with a can of chicken broth. After the prescribed 45 minutes, the broth was essentially all absorbed/evaporated, but unfortunately, the chestnuts weren't mushy yet. Having no more broth, I decided they would have to be done. I added a few tablespoons of butter, and using a handheld pastry blender, tried to puree them.

It was only semi-successful. I suspect a food processor would have produced a better puree. My end product is a lumpy mash, pale brown in color. The flavor is very nice, but I am not entirely certain it was worth all the effort, especially since SodaBoy turned up his nose and refused to even sample the concoction. Joy said that the puree is traditionally served as an accompaniment to game meat, particularly venison. I am not a hunter and have no game meat handy.

What should I do with this stuff? Besides just eat it with a spoon, that is.


turtlebella said...

I can't believe you don't have a side of a deer handy! Well, I guess there are some people who probably do. But sheesh. I have no suggestions. But I did laugh (alongside you?).

Nadine said...

I'm afraid I'm with Turtlebella on this one: no suggestions and plenty of laughter.

Mary Stebbins Taitt said...

LOL! I'm there with the laughter and a little bit of sympathy, but no ideas at all.

--serve it on crackers?

Biker buddy would prolly try it, if it weren't so far away!

You could cruise the highways looking for fresh road kill . . you cruise the highways anyway. Or stop the next guy going by with a deer on his hood and beg a small piece? We saw our first dead deer on a hood the other day.

or serve it with hamburger? Meatloaf?

Sara said...

Hm.... I roasted mine, so I'm not sure about boiled.

I share the "not entirely certain they're worth it." Theyre yummy roasted, but getting enough for a meal is a lot of work. After spending an evening roasting and peeling and peeling and PEELING and PEEELING! I did some research and discovered that prior to the introduction of corn, when the poor of Italy subsisted on chestnuts, it took every member of the family shelling nuts for 2-3 hours a night to keep everyone fed.

That's why I think chestnut stuffing is such a nostalgia dish. Oh for the melons of Egypt and all that....

Anyway, they're great sliced with bacon and cabbage or brussels sprouts. If yours are smooshed, I'd consider blending with cream, some stock, and some crumbled bacon (if you're a pork eater) into a cream of chestnut soup. Some black pepper, some nutmeg--- I'd eat it :)

Aliki2006 said...

I have no advice. I love chestnuts, but only roasted. Can you cook it into stuffing somehow?

BerryBird said...

I took most of it and threw it in the freezer so it wouldn't rot before I figured out what to do with it. I have been eating a tiny little bowl with an English muffin for breakfast the last couple days, but it is so rish I cannot eat more than a few tablespoons straight.

Sara, I think you are right that nostalgia plays a role. Before the chestnut blight wiped out most of the trees here in the 1930s, chestnut was a dominant forest tree across much of the eastern US. That is the sort of thing I can easily entertain myself thinking about, and how the tree and nuts were used by Native Americans and later the colonists. Good stuff.

Jenny F. Scientist said...

Well, if cooked in a sweet base, they're really good on muffins. Yeah, crackers?

And by the way, though I'm sure you figured this out, it takes more like 2-3 hours to boil chestnuts down. Oy!

(But $2 is a very good price.)