Prized by anyone who has grown up in the Northern Hemisphere or parts of Asia where the smell of roasting chestnuts will evoke wonderful memories. This tasty morsel is often sold as a street snack in these countries but remain an elusive spiky bundle for New Zealanders.
A unique nut, chestnuts were originally cultivated in ancient Greece. They have an extremely high water content of around 50%, making them more perishable than other nuts when fresh. Chestnuts are also lower in calories and a great source of fibre. Unlike other nuts, chestnuts are mostly eaten cooked.
One of the reasons those unfamiliar with chestnuts’ charms may be put off by is the lengthy and sometimes dangerous preparation needed to reveal the soft sweet nut.
To prepare chestnuts, you need to remove the nut from its spiky casing. Next, you need to remove the outer shell and slightly bitter skin. This can be done a few ways: boiled, oven roasted, pan roasted or even in the microwave. The most important thing to remember, especially if cooking these in an open pan, is to score the shell just enough so you pierce the skin but not the chestnut itself. If you miss this step, the built-up steam causes them to explode!
Once cooked, peel the shell/skin off and you are left with the chestnut flesh to enjoy.
Chestnuts can be candied, dipped in chocolate, roasted and salted, pureed into soup, baked into cakes and brownies or cooked in risottos and casseroles. In savoury cooking, they pair well with mushrooms, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, carrots, sage and pork. Sweeten them up with apples, cream, chocolate, warm spices and dried fruit.
There are a number of small growers dotted around New Zealand, most notably Waikato, Bay of Plenty, Auckland and Canterbury.