Key Ingredient


Wednesday, December 19, 2001

Ingredient of the week

Key ingredient: chestnuts

Chestnuts roasting on an open fire" is not only a famous holiday phrase, but one that captures the essence of things we enjoy most about the holidays. But, who has a fireplace in the islands? And who would want to light it up to roast chestnuts?

Although we don't have snow and cold weather, we do have fresh chestnuts. Perhaps we can't enjoy them while gathered around the hearth with family and friends, but roasted chestnuts can be a treat here nonetheless.

The basics: Chestnuts are surrounded by a hard, glossy brown shell and a bitter inner paper-like skin. Most fresh chestnuts are imported from Europe and Asia due to an early 20th-century blight that destroyed much of the chestnut trees domestically.

Korean chestnuts are readily found in the islands. They are plump and meaty with a sweet and earthy flavor. Unlike most nuts, chestnuts have little oil and are very low in fat. They are also a good source of fiber.

Selecting: Choose nuts that are plump, firm and free of blemishes.

Storing: Place unshelled nuts in a cool, dry area for a couple of days. Or, store in a plastic bag in the refrigerator for up to a week. As much as possible, leave nuts in their shells until ready to use.

Use: Rinse chestnuts before use. They can then be roasted or boiled and used in a number of savory and sweet dishes or just enjoyed right out of their shells. Chestnuts are famous in stuffings or incorporated with wild rice and root vegetables.

Roasted chestnuts are also delicious. Soak nuts in water for about 30 minutes to make the shell more pliable. With a paring knife, cut an X in the shell, making sure to penetrate it completely. Place the nuts on a baking sheet and roast at 400 degrees for 15-20 minutes. Be careful not to burn them. Let them cool for a few minutes, then peel. They will be difficult to peel once they've cooled completely.

Where to buy: Fresh chestnuts are only available from around September through January. Prices range from $2.99-$5.99 a pound.

Food Stuffs: Morsels

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