This is my version of hearth-roasted chestnuts, which you can also use if you want peeled fresh chestnuts for a recipe. I score the chestnut peels first and soak the chestnuts in water before roasting. The residual water left in the drained chestnuts creates steam in the hot pan, keeping the chestnuts from drying out and making them easier to peel.
I like to serve the hot chestnuts as a warming snack on a winter's day. They also make a great hors d'oeuvre for Thanksgiving or Christmas Day with a glass of dry sherry or cider and are a great end of a meal, with a glass of sweet wine or grappa.
For 1 pound of chestnuts, start with 1 1/2 pounds chestnuts in the shell. Using a thin sharp knife, carve an X on the flat side of each chestnut. Put the chestnuts in a large bowl and add enough water to cover by 1 inch. Let soak for at least 30 minutes and up to 1 hour. Drain the chestnuts and pat dry.
Spread the chestnuts in a roasting pan and roast in a preheated 400°F oven for 15 to 20 minutes, or until the shells are brittle and have curled back somewhat at the X. Remove from the oven.
As soon as the chestnuts are cool enough to handle, use a knife to peel off both the hard outer shells and the inner brown skins.
Sources for Canned Unsweetened Chestnut Puree:
Adapted from A New Way to Cook by Sally Schneider (Artisan, 2001). Copyright 2001 by Sally Schneider.
A former chef, Sally Schneider has won numerous awards—including four James Beard awards—for her books and magazine writing. She is creator of the lifestyle blog Improvised Life, a featured blogger on The Atlantic Monthly's Food Blog, and author of The Improvisational Cook and A New Way to Cook. She has served as a contributing editor to both Saveur and Food & Wine, and her work has appeared in The Los Angeles Times Magazine, Saveur, Food & Wine, SELF and Connoisseur.