Available fresh from mid-March until July, chestnuts need cooking to unlock their goodness. The most popular cooking techniques in Australia are boiling, oven roasting and microwaving. However, if you’re cooking outdoors, roasting chestnuts over an open fire or barbecuing adds a smokier flavour.
The toasty-sweet aroma of freshly-cooked chestnuts is intoxicating, while their versatile nutty flavour and roast potato-like texture makes chestnuts the perfect ingredient to create extra special savoury and sweet meals.
Unlike other nuts, chestnuts are low in fat (although do remember that the fat in other nuts is good fat making all nuts good nutritious choices) and offer a healthy dose of vitamin C. They also provide folate, potassium, antioxidants, dietary fibre and are low in kilojoules with a 30 gram serve providing 217 kJ (52 Cal). And they’re gluten free.
Cook, peel and freeze – the hassle-free approach
This season for convenience, purchase a kilo or two of fresh chestnuts at a time. Cook and peel the chestnuts, then store the prepared chestnuts in zip-lock bags in the freezer so they’re on hand and ready to add a special nutty flavour to weekly meals.
Try adding a handful of healthy cooked chestnuts to:
• Stir fries, noodle, pasta and rice dishes (Check out the recipe pictured above Chestnut, Beef & Bok Choy Stir-Fry)
• A roasting pan with seasonal vegetables
• A range of salads and home-made dips
• Spaghetti Bolognese, burger mince or San Choy Bau mix
• Stuffings for chicken, turkey or pork
• Boiling potatoes to soften, then mash to create a creamy puree
• Soups like minestrone, pumpkin, cauliflower or mushroom
• To a roasting tray with a mix of nuts, chilli and garlic tossed with extra virgin olive oil
When it comes to chestnut desserts, the possibilities are endless. Teamed with chocolate, vanilla, cream, nutmeg, coffee, orange, brandy, honey or golden syrup, chestnuts make irresistible pancakes, cakes, brownies, meringues, puddings and silky smooth pastry fillings and mousses.
Chestnut flour is also worth seeking out. This pale-brown flour, made from ground Chestnuts, has a pleasing sweet-nutty taste. It is a delicious option for gluten free baking or substitute for a portion of plain flour in standard cake, muffin, bread, pancake and brownie recipes, to produce a richer coloured, moist and softer crumbed product. Chestnut flour is also ideal for thickening soups and casseroles. You will find chestnut flour at specialty food stores, delicatessens or online from select Australian chestnut growers.
The freshest new season chestnuts have a glossy brown firm shell and feel heavy for their size.
Refrigerate uncooked chestnuts in a paper bag in the crisper for 2 to 3 days or in an airtight container for up to 10 days.
Cooked chestnuts can be stored in the refrigerator in an airtight container for up to 4 days. For longer storage, freeze cooked and peeled chestnuts in small freezer bags for up
to 6 months.
Firstly, cut a shallow cross into the flat side of the chestnut shell, which prevents the nut from overheating and bursting while cooking. When boiling, cut the chestnuts in half across the width of the chestnut before cooking.
Place prepared chestnuts into a pan of cold water and bring to the boil. Simmer for 15-20 minutes or until the flesh is tender and easily separates from the shell.
Preheat oven to 200°C/180°C fan-forced. Place prepared chestnuts onto a baking tray and bake for 15-20 minutes or until the shells split open.
Place 6 to 8 prepared chestnuts in a single layer on a microwave-safe plate. Cook, uncovered, at full power (850 watts or on High) for 2-3 minutes or until the flesh is tender.
Timing can vary depending on chestnut size and microwave power. Chestnuts will split open on cooking.
Grill or barbecue
Place prepared chestnuts on a tray under a moderate to hot grill or place chestnuts directly onto the barbecue grill, cook turning a couple of times, for 15-20 minutes or until the shells blacken and split open.
Peel chestnuts while they are still warm as they can be tricky to peel when cooled. Once cooked, remove chestnuts from the heat and wrap in a clean tea towel for 5-10 minutes and then quickly peel off the outer brown shell and remove the papery thin skin underneath.
If boiled, the chestnuts will slip easily from their shell; simply remove one chestnut at a time from the water whilst still warm to peel.
Once cooked, 1 kg of chestnuts yields about 700g of cooked and peeled chestnuts.
There are a significant number of chestnut varieties each with their own distinct characteristics available throughout the season. The five most-planted varieties across the industry are Red Spanish, Buffalo Queen, Purton’s Pride, De Coppi Marone and Bouche de Betizac. Other varieties include Perfection, Premium Gold and Gourmet Lady.
Chestnuts are unusual in that the crop falls naturally to the ground when ripe. Growers need to gather the chestnuts within two days of them falling. The prickly burrs are vacuumed or gathered by gloved hands, the outside casing is removed, to release 2-3 glossy brown chestnuts that are then graded by variety into seven sizes (ranging from 20 mm to 41 mm in diameter), ready for sale.
75% of Australian chestnut production is in North East Victoria around the townships of Beechworth, Stanley, Bright, Mt Beauty, Wandiligong and Myrtleford. The remaining crops are grown east of Melbourne, Batlow, Orange, Tenterfield, the Southern Tablelands in NSW, the Adelaide Hills in SA, South West Western Australia and throughout Tasmania.
Chestnuts were first brought to Australia by migrants during the 1850’s gold rush. The arrival of Greek and Italian immigrants after World War II saw plantings increase. The commercial chestnut industry has been established just over 36 years and today there are approx. 300 chestnut growers across Australia.
Out of season option
Ready to use Australian peeled, frozen chestnuts and pre-cooked chestnuts are available online and from selected stockists year-round, when fresh chestnuts are out of season.
Go to www.chestnutsaustralia.com.au for more information.
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