With Autumn’s arrival brings some cosy delights. Roasted chestnuts are one of my favourites. If you want to know how to roast chestnuts at home in the oven, here is a guide on how to do it.
Chestnuts and Italian Street Vendors
When we visit Rome in winter, a common sight on the streets are the chestnut vendors, who sell paper bags of freshly roasted chestnuts to passers by.
The street vendors of Rome, roast the chestnuts oven open coals and the aroma that permeates around the streets really reminds me of Christmas time.
In Italy, roasted chestnuts are called “caldarroste“, peeling and snacking on these little delights with gloved hands as I take in the sights and smells of Rome, makes me never want to leave.
You sometimes find the same in London, if you visit during winter. The experience is all the same in the capital and the chestnuts act like little hand warmers as you munch your way through them.
Years ago, my father and I would visit the Hamley’s Toy Store and I would delight in their beautiful Christmas window displays. Wide eyed and with my face pressed up against the window. I would imagine the toys Santa might bring me that year, whilst clutching my bag of roasted chestnuts.
But, you don’t have to visit Rome or London to experience the taste of roasted chestnuts and if you don’t have a fireplace in which to roast them. The good news is, you can roast chestnuts in an oven at home and they will still taste amazing.
What are Chestnuts?
Chestnuts are the edible nut of the sweet chestnut tree in the Castanea family. You will find chestnuts available to buy from Autumn and through the winter for the festive season.
The chestnut itself, is encased in a spiky, green or brown outer casing, called a Burr. Inside the Burr, you will find that the chestnut has a brown shell which is inedible and needs to be peeled off, along with a slightly furry, paper-like skin to expose the nut inside.
Chestnuts should be harvested when the green burr turns brown, which indicates that the chestnut has ripened and is ready for use. When you purchase chestnuts from the supermarket, the burr has been removed, so it can be difficult to know which chestnuts in the pack are ripe and which ones aren’t.
Unfortunately, it’s inevitable that you will find a few un-ripened chestnuts in the mix after you have taken the time to roast and peel them. You can tell if a chestnut was not ripe, as the texture will be hard and quite inedible.
The taste of a roasted chestnut is quite sweet and nutty. The nut itself isn’t crunchy like other nuts but has a softer, meaty-like texture that can be enjoyed on its own or as an ingredient in other recipes.
Chestnuts are high in vitamin C and low in fat, and while the vitamin C does lose some of it’s potency through the roasting process, you can still happily snack on these, guilt free while giving yourself a vitamin boost in the process.
Chestnuts should not be eaten raw. This is due to the tannic acid that lies within, which can cause stomach irritation and digestive issues. Eating raw chestnuts can be dangerous for some people who have existing liver or kidney problems.
Are Chestnuts, Water Chestnuts and Conkers the Same Thing?
If you have ever collect conkers as a child, the resemblance to edible chestnuts is very similar. Conkers come from the horse chestnut tree and are inedible cousins to the chestnuts in this recipe. Never mistake conkers for chestnuts, conkers must not be eaten, but they do make for a great childhood game.
Another confusing mix up can be that of chestnuts and water chestnuts. Despite the similarities in appearance and name, they are not actually related. Unlike tree chestnuts, water chestnuts are an edible root part and grow in marshy conditions in the ground. Chestnuts and water chestnuts are not used as substitutes for one another in recipes. The texture and tastes are vastly different, water chestnuts are more crispy, like the flesh of an apple with a very different taste.
Tips and Guidance
Begin by inspecting the chestnuts and discard any with holes or cracks in the shell. Give the rest a quick wash and dry them thoroughly.
You might find that some people will recommend to soak the chestnuts before cooking. However, I have not found that this is particularly advantageous or really makes a difference to the outcome, but if you’d prefer, you can soak the chestnuts beforehand. Whilst it is said to help steam the chestnut, it is usually recommended for hand gathered chestnuts due to the larvae they may contain.
The most important thing to remember when roasting chestnuts in the oven, is that you must score the outer shell. This allows the heat and steam to escape as they cook. If you omit cutting the outer shell, the chestnuts will explode, which can be very dangerous.
Traditionally you are meant to score the flat side of the chestnut with a cross or X shape. It is easier to score the shell on the flat side, but if you are having difficulties with the chestnuts moving about too much, cut them on the rounded side.
Using a sharp knife and a chopping board, place the chestnuts with the flat side facing down on the board, and with the knife, make a cross or X mark through the brown outer shell of each one. Make sure your score mark has penetrated the entire outer shell, through to the nut. This can take a little practice at first, so take your time and do it right.
Place the chestnuts in a single layer on a baking tray, with the score mark facing up. Roast them for 30-40 minutes.
When you remove the chestnuts from the oven. Place them in a cloth or tea towel, wrap them up and give them a hard squeeze to make the chestnuts crack. Leave them to sit for a few minutes before handling to save burning your fingers as you peel them.
It is easiest to peel chestnuts not long after they come out of the oven, while they are still warm. If you find that your chestnuts have cooled too much, pop them back in the oven to reheat again.
Roasted chestnuts are best eaten immediately, but they can be cooled and stored in an airtight container for the following day.
You can reheat chestnuts in the oven. Use caution with microwaves as they can catch fire or explode.
YES! This is a very important step. If you try to roast chestnuts without scoring the outer casing, they will explode during or after the roasting process.
How to Roast Chestnuts In The Oven
- 500 g Chestnuts
- Preheat your oven to 180C.
- Inspect the chestnuts and remove any that have holes or cracks and discard.
- Wash the chestnuts in some cool water and dry thoroughly.
- Using a sharp knife make a X shape on the flat side of each one. If you find the chestnuts are rolling around too much, place them flat side down and score the rounded side instead.
- Lay the chestnuts out on a large baking tray in a single layer with the X side up.
- Place them in the oven and roast for 30-40 minutes. Turn the tray halfway through, to ensure they are all cooking evenly.
- Remove the chestnuts from the oven and place on a cloth or tea towel. Wrap them up and squeeze them hard to make them crack.
- Leave them to sit in the tea towel for a few minutes whilst they cool a little, season and then serve immediately.
Recipe Notes and Guidance
- Do not omit scoring the chestnut casing, they will explode in the oven if you fail to do this.
- Chestnuts are easiest to peel when warm, if they cool too much you can place them back in the oven to reheat.
- Roasted chestnuts can be stored in the fridge, until the following day, if needed. Reheat them in the oven.